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Planners OK lightly edited master plan


After a five-month review of Carroll County's proposed master plan, the planning commission approved a document yesterday that resembles the one rejected by the county commissioners last year.

The latest revision of the plan - which would set the first new development guidelines since 1964 - directs development to the county's eight towns and Finksburg and includes the planning policies drafted during two years of public discussion but later rejected by the county commissioners.

The latest version includes language that the county commissioners recommended Thursday, most notably the renaming of strategies as recommendations. These cosmetic differences make it more likely the commissioners will adopt the 117-page document.

The commissioners can adopt or reject the plan but cannot make further changes. The five-member planning panel approved it unanimously

Because the changes are so minor, it was not clear yesterday whether state law requires the county to give the public 60 days to comment on the latest draft. The county attorney's decision on that question is expected today.

"I'm satisfied with the plan we're presenting to the commissioners," said Deborah L. Ridgely, planning commission chairwoman.

For two years, beginning in December 1995, about 140 volunteers and professional planners spent more than 2,100 hours analyzing the information that formed the basis of the document, which the planning panel submitted to the commissioners in July 1998. Four months later, the commissioners deferred action until a new board was elected.

During years of meetings and formal hearings, residents often voiced opposition to the continuation of what they regarded as unsightly or poorly planned development. But by yesterday's afternoon session, the audience had dwindled to three people.

Ridgely urged the commissioners to hold meetings to help residents learn about the changes.

For the most part, those changes were cosmetic. In the latest version, all of the strategies outlined in the document were renamed recommendations. The change in language is expected to make it clear to residents that the master plan is a guide - not a mandate - for development.

"We are meeting the requirements of [state law], which says 'the planning commission shall include recommendations,' in the master plan," said planning panel member Ed Wheatley. "As it says in [the state law], 'the plan shall serve as a guide.' It is not a mandate."

During their eight-month review of the document, the county commissioners cut all planning strategies and policies out of the plan. They wanted those items listed in a separate document, as a book of recommendations to which they could refer but were not required to adopt.

The commissioners also eliminated design standards for commercial and residential development and weakened strategies for protecting county historic sites.

The planning panel had refused to embrace the commissioners' suggestions.

Last week, the two boards met to iron out their differences and settled on a plan that closely resembles the original document.

"I would like the Board [of County Commissioners] to take action as quickly as is legally possible," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who serves as an ex-officio member of the planning panel.

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