Smarting from growth Escape: In the peaceful Carroll County towns that attract droves of new residents from Baltimore each year, leaders are saying, 'Enough is enough.'


A photo caption in yesterday's editions incorrectly portrayed Hampstead Town Manager Neil Ridgely's concerns about population increases. In fact, Ridgely is concerned about increases proposed in Carroll County's master plan.

Neil Ridgely, town manager of Hampstead, looks out his office window and sees the intruders headed his way. Yuppies. From Baltimore.

Like an advancing army, the newcomers are moving steadily up Route 140, buying farmland and building three- and four-bedroom homes. Their migration into Carroll County's towns encouraged by county officials' efforts to conform to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's anti-sprawl Smart Growth initiative.

But in Carroll, home to eight independent towns, local leaders are exercising their authority as the rulers of sovereign kingdoms, lining up to say "no" to the county's ideas for Smart Growth.

"We've got more and more people moving here from Baltimore, trying to escape the problems of city life," said Ridgely. "But as our population swells, the problems follow. We lose the very elements that attracted people to this area -- open space and small-town charm."

According to the draft of the county's master plan, which is expected to be adopted this fall, Carroll can expect about 50,000 new residents in the next 20 years. The plan directs growth to existing communities: Carroll's eight incorporated towns, Finksburg and the Freedom District.

"They're asking the communities to absorb 75 percent of the growth. It's unrealistic," said Ridgely, who noted that Carroll's towns are home to 23 percent of the county's 148,000 residents.

The town of Hampstead, pop. 4,200, is expected to welcome more than 2,300 residents in the next eight years.

"We don't have the resources to accommodate that many people," Ridgely said. "We're talking about a lack of basic necessities -- water and sewer service."

Hampstead is totally dependent on the county's wastewater plant for sewage treatment. And like most areas of the county, it relies on wells for water.

County officials have promised to help figure out how to provide services for newcomers.

"This will not be a one-way street," said county Planning Director Philip J. Rovang. "As we implement this plan, we will help our [communities] find ways to accept the increase in residential density."

But town officials are skeptical.

"The county has promised us other things in the past but hasn't come through," said Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan.

In March, county officials announced that for the first time in 20 years towns would not receive funds for maintaining county roads within their limits. The news stunned town officials, who had factored the expected revenue -- about $61,000 for Westminster, for example -- into their budget plans for fiscal year 1999.

Yowan said he has no problem with the projected population figures for Westminster -- 20,000 people by 2020, about 4,000 more residents than today. For him, the key issue is infrastructure.

Under the master plan, the county would require adequate roads and schools before developments could be built, "forcing existing taxpayers to bear the cost of construction," Yowan said. In the past, developers built roads, then passed the cost onto newcomers.

Westminster officials have written to county officials, expressing their concern about growth. And they're not alone. Residents of Carroll's small towns are fighting growth the traditional way -- by tackling one project at a time.

In Westminster, they're trying to block plans to build 200 homes on the old Koontz Farm. In Eldersburg, they're fighting construction of a $30 million shopping center. In Hampstead, they're trying to curb traffic jams on Main Street.

"As a small-business owner, I want the most traffic that I can get into the area," said Tom Shutt, owner of Porky's Texas Style Hot Weiner and BBQ on Main Street in Hampstead. "But on the other hand, adding to the congestion only adds to everyone's frustration. It's already impossible to cross Main Street. Traffic is constant."

An additional 2,300 residents would make Main Street "unbearable," Shutt said.

The master plan also has drawn criticism from the dozens of residents who spent nearly two years helping draft the document. Several complain that key recommendations have been ignored.

Their complaints have prompted an inquiry by Maurice E. Wheatley, a member of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission. Wheatley is polling those who worked on the four )) key areas of the plan -- adequate facilities, agricultural preservation, economic development and land use -- to determine whether residents' complaints are isolated or symptomatic of a larger problem.

As that debate rages, Manchester remains silent. There, the question of future development has already been decided.

"We politely, but firmly, rejected the county's plan," said Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy. "We didn't argue with county officials. We simply let our actions speak for themselves."

Manchester adopted its own master plan earlier this year, after 18 months of planning and hearings. The plan, which has been approved by the County Commissioners, allows for moderate growth -- 5,000 residents.

Lippy said the county had wanted to triple the town's population -- from 3,100 to 10,000.

"It's our version of Smart Growth," Lippy said of the town's master plan.

But that version could mean that Manchester, and other Carroll towns adopting a similar stance, will be denied state Smart Growth funds if newcomers are forced to build homes outside established communities.

It's a risk some town officials seem willing to take.

Pub Date: 6/26/98

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