County's growth control touted At convention, Brown says goal is to be 'met-rural'; Residential building limited


OCEAN CITY -- County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown compared Carroll's new growth-control law Friday to an airplane flight on which the luggage arrives with the passengers.

But that wasn't the case three years ago, when he and Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates took office, Brown told delegates attending the Maryland Association of Counties convention, which ended yesterday.

"What was needed didn't get to where it was needed when it was needed," Brown said. "We discovered there really was a place between a rock and a hard place -- and that no sane person wants to be there."

Brown was part of a three-member panel addressing "Promoting Innovation: Building the Best Incentives."

The much-touted ordinance limits residential building to 6,000 lots over the next six years.

The measure allows the commissioners to direct developments to areas where schools, roads and public services are adequate, and restrict it elsewhere.

Before the law was enacted in March, one of eight Carroll schoolchildren was in a portable classroom, Brown said, and the county needed to spend $142 million on new schools over eight years when it was coming out of a recession.

"We were robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "Carroll County had been trying to do something rather unique in the Baltimore-Washington area, be a 'met-rural' county."

Despite an aggressive farmland-preservation program, the county, which ranks second in the state in preserving farmland, was losing 1,800 acres a year to development, Brown said.

"It became clear we had to do a better job," Brown said, "but we didn't know where to go."

So the commissioners called a countywide conference to address the problem.

"There was lots of frustration because the schools and roads weren't adequate, and water and sewer service was lagging behind," Brown told the delegates.

A 'bitter' 18 months

For 18 months, government, civic and business leaders struggled through meetings that were often "quite bitter and contentious," Brown said.

But eventually, bankers, builders and developers "realized that it made no sense to be outside the tent trying to knock it down," Brown said.

Their opposition to slow growth was so vociferous that Brown likened the atmosphere to "World War III."

The result is that with the passage of the growth-control law, the county can continue to grow and still preserve its rural heritage, Brown said.

He said he hopes to tell delegates at a future convention that Carroll's growth-control law ensured that the county is "not only the finest place to live in the state today, but that the same will be true 25 years from now."

Randy Johnson, former president of the National Association of Counties and a commissioner in Hennepin County, Minn., told the convention that counties need to think about innovation constantly because "the pace of change is occurring at warp speed."

He alluded to a program in Minnesota that used to take two engineers 4 1/2 months to accomplish but now can be done in 4 1/2 minutes on a computer.

"The nerds have won," he said, and government officials who don't learn new ways to deliver services will be voted out of office.

Increasingly, the services that government is being asked to provide are those that business has found unprofitable, he said.

Johnson encouraged the delegates to "look and learn from other people, and shamelessly copy their successes."

That could have been the theme of the convention, which is essentially three days of government in exile for most counties.

In addition to the county commissioners, most department heads attended to meet and chat with state officials and their counterparts in other jurisdictions.

In several workshops each day, officials offered short show-and-tell presentations describing local accomplishments that might be applicable elsewhere.

Brown's talk on growth controls was one of the few scheduled to be heard by the entire convention.

Assistant County Solicitor Timothy Burke was a featured panelist when he spoke Thursday at a forum called "Paying the Freight: Examining Fees for Emergency Services."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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