Commissioners vote against rezoning farm to residential

The county commissioners refused yesterday to rezone to residential a 42-acre Woodbine farm, dealing a setback to developers who wanted to build a 24-lot subdivision there.

The three-member board voted unanimously to keep the Streaker Road property - west of Route 97 and south of Route 26 - agricultural. The agriculture zoning allows conditional uses such as churches.


During a lengthy public hearing about the proposal last month, neighbors complained of severe water problems, crowded schools and increased traffic. At that meeting, the planning commission and county planners recommended against the rezoning.

While those arguments helped sway the commissioners, the fact that the parcel was a "remainder" from the original 75-acre farm most influenced their opposition, they said.


A remainder is the land left after a property owner builds on all the acres he is allowed to develop. In the agriculture zone, the county allows one home for every 20 acres.

"They had already used up all their lot rights," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a strong property rights activist and longtime farmer. "That was my reasoning for opposing. I feel strongly that we cannot allow remainders to be developed."

Dell said he hoped the action "sent a message" but added the county should have a strong policy to deter similar rezoning petitions. He also said he was concerned that two developers, working together, presented the rezoning petition and not the property owner.

To rezone a property, the owner must prove a mistake in the original rezoning or a change in the neighborhood. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she found no change and no mistake.

Gary Davis, who planned to develop the property with Mark Hufnagle, said residents' complaints about crowded roads and schools showed a significant change in the onetime farm area.

"There is residential development all around this property," said Davis. "The residents are misinformed. All their comments proved our case that this is no longer a farming community. It is residential."

Davis, who intended to build his family home on the parcel, said he plans to appeal the decision.

The commissioners set a precedent for residential development last year, when they rezoned the nearby Rash farm, allowing a subdivision to be built on that 145-acre parcel in South Carroll, Davis said.


Dell voted in favor of the Rash project but added he knew it "could potentially open doors" for other developers.

Gouge said another such rezoning, particularly in South Carroll where little farm land remains, would leave the door wide open for farmers to sell or convert their land to developers.

"People have the right to petition for rezoning, but there should be language that we are not interested in remainders," Gouge said.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier also was bothered by the remainder issue.

"We may come to a point when there is no land left and there are only remainders. But, we are not there yet," Frazier said.

Concerning the water complaints, Gouge said she found the problems that residents detailed frightening. One homeowner said a 30-year-old promise of public water for his Grace Lee Avenue home in an adjoining subdivision has never been fulfilled. Others said additional development could stress their wells.


The county did not notify neighbors that it would be deliberating on the rezoning issue yesterday. Only David Berch of French Avenue attended the decision-making session.

"I am happy the commissioners upheld the state law," said Berch. "Clearly, the criteria for rezoning were not met. We get to keep our rural atmosphere for a few more years at least."