More than 300 people attended two informational hearings in the past 10 days on the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for growth in South Carroll, the county's most populous area.
They raised concerns about overburdened roads, crowded schools and emergency services that cannot keep pace with a population of 28,000. Many studied a series of maps that outlined future roads, zoning and growth patterns. Others skimmed through the 11-chapter plan.
The document, the first major revision to the 1977 Freedom miniplan, envisions more than 1,000 new homes and estimates a population of 40,000 by 2020. The plan identifies employment districts and says residential and commercial development "is consistent with the county's ability to provide public facilities in a timely manner."
"We could not have provided a better product in terms of details offered," said Raj B. Williams, a South Carroll county planner. "The plan is basically a fiscal tool so we can budget our needs."
But even a 2 percent jump in residential growth might be too much for Freedom, a 47-square-mile area at the southern end of Carroll, residents said at the hearings. Many would delay development until the supporting infrastructure is in place.
"Build the roads first before you rezone parcels to residential," said Jeannie Nichols, a Sykesville councilwoman.
"How can we have residential growth, when we just opened an elementary school at capacity and there are no more in the plan?" asked Susan Krebs, a school board member.
The plan does not provide for phased-in growth, said K. Marlene Conaway, county deputy director of planning.
"That is something you need to recommend to the commission," said Conaway. "Our job is to help you understand so that you can make those comments to the planning commission."
At the information meetings, held Dec. 3 and Tuesday in South Carroll, planning officials encouraged questions, but asked the audience to reserve comments for the Jan. 7 public hearing before the county Planning and Zoning Commission. Given the unprecedented numbers of those who want to speak, that session promises to last far longer than the two hours allotted.
Similar sessions on the proposed master plan for the county drew about 35 people. Fewer than five residents attended a review of the county's water and sewer plan. But, in unincorporated Freedom, which has no mayor or town council, such hearings are often the only link between residents and the officials making decisions that affect their neighborhoods.
"Most people are concerned about things that impact them locally," said Phil Bennett, chairman of Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial panel that serves as a conduit between government and residents. "There is no way we can stop growth, but we do what we can to accommodate it in the best way we can."
Questions about roads dominated the session Tuesday. The plan recommends transportation improvements, particularly along Routes 26 and 32, Freedom's major arteries, and urges the county to make completion of connector roads a priority. Of the 21 proposed roads, nine are considered immediate priorities that planners hope to include in the next budget.
"We are left with an unconnected system that was supposed to relieve traffic on the major routes," said Conaway.
The county's policy of waiting until developers build planned major streets has left several incomplete roads and forced neighborhood traffic onto highways.
The size of the two audiences interested in the Freedom plan shows the concern, said Williams, who has handled numerous queries since the plan became public Nov. 1.
The document is available at county libraries, on the Internet at http: //www.carr.org/carroll /govt/depts/DPD/freedom/freemain.htm/ or by calling 410-386-2145.
Pub Date: 12/11/98