Twenty years ago, Carroll County officials set out to lure thousands of newcomers to the Eldersburg area by turning farmland into housing developments. They drew up a master plan for roads, schools and public utilities to accommodate expected growth.
The people, lured by low taxes, good schools and green vistas, came, doubling the population to nearly 30,000. But almost nothing in the master plan was built.
Today, nearly every school in south Carroll is surrounded by portable classrooms, and the area suffers through seasonal water shortages. The county is waiting 20 years after some subdivisions began for developers to build connector roads that would relieve traffic on the congested thoroughfares in Eldersburg.
South Carroll's one volunteer fire company -- the 1977 plan called for two -- can barely keep up with demand, and state police who serve the area from the barracks in Westminster can often be nearly a half-hour away from an emergency.
Now, a plan with many of the same grand ideas and 3,000 more houses is up for debate. A public hearing, at 7 p.m. today at Liberty High School, promises to be as crowded as the school and the roads leading to it.
"There was no way to do what was in the old plan and no way to pay for what is in this one," said Jonathan S. Herman, mayor of Sykesville, an incorporated town of 3,500 in the planning area. "A plan is only as successful as the means to implement it. If the county were a business, it would be bankrupt."
Eldersburg cannot afford a housing boom, but as an unincorporated area with no local government, it has little voice in its future, residents said.
When south Carroll residents used crowded schools as an argument against growth, the county approved several retirement communities, whose elderly residents account for more than half the emergency calls to the Fire Department.
"We have never been successful at slowing development," said Gene Edwards, a member of Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial board that acts as liaison between residents and the county. "It does not matter what is in the plan. It will benefit developers and not the community."
The plan would rezone to residential more than 1,200 acres, most of which is farmland.
"That is a tremendous additional burden on services," said Roberta Windham, council member. "There is no plan for a new elementary school for at least 12 years. The new kids will be in high school by then."
Eldersburg would need at least another elementary, costing $8 million, and another middle school, costing $13 million. Neither school is planned.
Water shortages have reached critical stages in drought conditions. The area relies on Liberty Reservoir, owned by Baltimore City, for its water. The county is allotted 3 million gallons a day.
Pub Date: 1/07/99