Border wars heating up in Carroll County


THE BORDER wars are heating up. Not in the wild west, but in the wild east of Carroll County, from Hampstead to Eldersburg.

That's the area of greatest residential growth in Carroll -- adjacent to the areas that Baltimore County has marked for farming and open space preservation, and to the Liberty Reservoir of Baltimore City that serves 1.6 million customers in the metro region.

The latest clash is over a mile-long road that is slated for future construction in the South Carroll growth plan. It's been in the plan for two decades, only recently reaffirmed for the next five years. It's an extension of Marriottsville Road to relieve congestion on Route 26, near the city's reservoir watershed. Continued listing of the phantom road keeps it as a possibility. And Baltimore City holds veto power over that project.

'Protect the land'

"It's a simple issue for us: Protect the land," declares George Balog, the city public works chief. Water quality will deteriorate and vegetation buffers will be eroded if the stretch of road is built, he predicts. Despite the hyperbolic rhetoric of Mr. Balog, the city is right in protecting the watershed -- and the source of drinking water for some 6,500 Carroll County homes.

Equally important, the road extension is of marginal value along that stretch of Route 26. Motorists have at least two exits from the state highway within a half-mile of the proposed road.

The primary purpose of such a thoroughfare would seem to be encouragement of further subdivision building along Todd Lane and surrounding environs. That's an idea that a lot of South Carroll residents oppose for reasons other than Baltimore's reservoir.

City's inconsistencies

The city's concern about the reservoirs it controls in other counties is not always consistent. Remember, a decade earlier the city wanted to expand its Pine Ridge Golf Course, even though it would have harmed the city's Loch Raven Reservoir (in Baltimore County).

That plan was eventually canned amid environmental protests of neighbors and clean water advocates. Funny, Baltimore's ever-vigilant public works agency didn't lead the charge to protect the land and water that time, perhaps because the project would have enriched the city's coffers. (It later fought another proposed golf course on Loch Raven, one that would have benefited private investors.)

On the Marriottsville Road project, the city appears to be stretching the facts. Mr. Balog says the proposed extension is within 100 yards of the reservoir. Maps indicate that a sliver of the route may get that close to the buffer but not to the actual water-filled reservoir.

It would be nice to think that Carroll County could craft its own destiny, but that's not the case. State and federal highway oversight, and land owned by other governmental jurisdictions, will always take precedence. The crux of the Marriottsville Road dispute is not that Baltimore can prevent the road extension. The point is that the city is correct -- this time -- in its position for the good of the community.

Another range war

Another range war is simmering in the Hampstead area. Baltimore County residents have gone to court to cut back capacity of Carroll County's wastewater treatment plant there. The discharge of effluent is polluting the Piney Run and raising temperatures of the stream so that trout cannot thrive there.

Carroll has tried several remedies, installing a meandering outfall for plant discharge and shading for the plant's settling tanks. It's also planning a refrigerating system for the effluent. But the Hampstead plant's expanded capacity (intended for more growth) remains a major point of contention. Baltimore County plaintiffs worry that an expanded treatment plant will foster more growth and greater impact on an area that Baltimore County has marked for bucolic preservation.

(Incidentally, Hampstead lays claim to being the only incorporated municipality in Baltimore County! The back yards of several homes intrude into Baltimore County near Route 88. But these few residents are governed and taxed by Carroll.)

Baltimore County and city have joined forces in blocking Carroll's rezoning of 500 acres of conservation land for industrial use near the Liberty watershed. The 18-year-old agreement between the three jurisdictions has bound Carroll to keep the land in this most restrictive zoning classification.

Carroll wants to rezone the land to increase its tiny industrial base. The other two jurisdictions already have significant economic development, and want no possible threat to the reservoir. The issue is still in limbo.

This clash of views across county lines about use of land is becoming more frequent as Carroll tries to catch up in economic development and in population. These issues affect people on both sides of the border. The way to resolution lies in thoughtful mediation, not in a test of governmental legal power.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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