Master plan goes to panel for study; Detailed review by planners expected to last a few months


After waiting nearly two years, the county planning commission got its first glimpse yesterday of the county commissioners' proposed master plan for managing Carroll's growth -- a critical step to drafting a blueprint for development.

"At this point, I think we need to sit down and go through the plan chapter by chapter to see what was changed," said planning commission member Melvin Baile. The panel's review of the 125-page document is expected to take a few months.

After the planning panel has approved the master plan, it will be returned to the county commissioners, who can adopt or reject the document but cannot make changes.

The commissioners' latest revision would set the first new land-use guidelines since 1964. The plan weakens provisions for directing development to the county's eight towns and Finksburg, and eliminates all of the planning policies and strategies drafted by volunteer residents and county planners during two years of discussions.

The commissioners would like to put the planning strategies and policies into a separate book of recommendations they may refer to but do not have to adopt.

Planning panel member Ed Wheatley said he supports a simplified plan.

"State law does not require us to include strategies in the master plan, and I do not feel they should be included," Wheatley said. "It's not our job to say how the goals of the master plan will be achieved. That is the commissioners' job."

State officials and political analysts have said the best master plans incorporate community comments, offer detailed directions for future growth and clearly relate to local zoning ordinances.

The commissioners decided last month to begin a comprehensive rezoning of the county, independent of the master plan. They are also pushing the planning commission to endorse a proposal that would exempt small-scale commercial and industrial projects -- those involving less than a half-acre -- from review by the planning panel.

The panel will continue debating the proposal next month.

In other business, the planning commission:

Allowed International Senior Housing Development to draft plans for as many as 245 assisted-living units on a 7-acre parcel on Gorsuch Road in Westminster. The property was once considered critical to the proposed Westminster bypass, a road the state has refused to fund. The county Board of Zoning Appeals must approve the plan before it is sent to the planning commission for final approval.

Granted a zoning waiver that will allow two churches to expand. St. James Church and Mount Airy Baptist Church asked for the waiver and annexation into Mount Airy so they may connect to the town's public utilities.

Refused to rezone about 11 acres of agricultural land in Gamber, on the west side of Niner Road, for 1-acre residential lots.

Approved Carroll Community College's plans to build a fine arts center and fitness facility in Westminster. The addition will total 62,546 square feet.

Approved plans to build corporate headquarters for Episcopal Ministries to the Aging at Route 32 and Johnsville Road in Sykesville.

Carved two residential lots totaling nearly 5 acres from a 55-acre agricultural property off Snydersburg Road near Cascade Lake, which is west of Hampstead.

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