In an effort to protect Carroll's short supply of marketable industrial land, county officials are pushing for a new zoning designation that would ban department stores and recreational facilities on industrial sites.
"If we're intent on having industry occupy certain properties, I think it's important that we have a new designation that cannot be converted to commercial use," said Melvin E. Baile Jr., a planning commission member. "We need to address the shortcomings of our existing industrial zones with a whole new designation."
Developers can establish about 50 types of businesses -- anything from a clothing store to an athletic club -- on Carroll's industrial properties. Ideally, the land should be used for heavy industry or light manufacturing and distribution.
In South Carroll, the county's most populous area with 28,000 residents, land zoned for industrial use has been lost to a Merritt athletic club, a Wal-Mart and Eldersburg Marketplace, a $35 million shopping center. Less than 1,000 acres of industrial land are left in the county, much of which has no access to public water or sewer service.
"We have about 200 acres of industrial land ready to go in Carroll County, and we need at least 1,000 more," Jack T. Lyburn, county economic development director, told the planning commission last week. "Without it, we won't be able to attract big business."
Lyburn said he has had to turn away prospective industries because Carroll does not have attractive sites equipped with natural gas lines and public utilities.
Although his office supported many of the commercial developments that were planned on industrial land -- including Eldersburg Marketplace -- Lyburn said he would support the creation of a new industrial zone.
"It's something I would like to work with the planning department to develop," Lyburn said.
Residential growth has far outpaced commercial and industrial development during the past decade, causing crowded classrooms and straining police and emergency services. The county's business tax base of 12 percent is the lowest in the Baltimore region.
Since taking office in December 1998, the county commissioners have made economic development a priority. They have simplified the approval process for small-scale commercial and industrial projects and cut building permit fees by as much as 50 percent. The board is working to carve industrial sites from mostly rural land.
As the commissioners move forward with a comprehensive rezoning of the county, Baile said he would like them to consider creating a "true industrial zone," one that would restrict commercial development on land zoned for industrial use.
"A restaurant, bank or day care facility would probably be OK, but a large retail store would not," said county planning Director Steven Horn.
The new industrial zone Baile is proposing would resemble employment campuses, which combine light manufacturing and commercial uses that support industry. Howard and Baltimore counties have for many years encouraged and strongly supported such development.
But Carroll has not been attractive to high-tech employers in the electronics, computers and service industries that typically occupy campus-style properties. And though economic development officials and county planners worked on an employment campus zoning ordinance from 1993 to 1995, it was never adopted by the commissioners.
The planning panel is expected to discuss Baile's vision as the county moves forward with its comprehensive rezoning, a process that could take six months.