Claude Rash, one of three brothers who last year won county approval to rezone their Woodbine farm for a golf course community to the chagrin of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, is the planning commission's choice to enforce Carroll County's zoning laws.
During a closed session last week, the five-member planning commission voted 3-1 to recommend Rash for the post of zoning administrator, county officials said. Planning commission chairwoman Deborah L. Ridgely did not vote.
As chairwoman, she votes only to break or create a tie.
The recommendation is likely to surprise many county residents.
"Claude is a nice guy, but I'm not sure he's qualified for the job," said Nimrod Davis, vice chairman of Freedom Area Citizens Council. "You can't enforce zoning willy-nilly. You have to have someone with experience doing the job."
Rash's experience with county zoning laws is limited to one term on the Board of Zoning Appeals and his decadelong battle to develop the Rash brothers' farm in Woodbine.
Last year, Rash and his brothers, Glenn and Edwin, won county approval to rezone their land for a 50-home golf course community over the objections of one of the county's three commissioners, the Freedom Area group and Glendening, who was opposed to the development because it violates his Smart Growth initiative.
The commissioners' 2-to-1 decision to rezone 145 acres of the Rash brothers' 400-acre farm is being appealed to county Circuit Court by the Freedom Area group and Douglas Ilioff, a Sykesville resident.
State officials strongly opposed the ruling, arguing it would undermine the county's farmland preservation program and create a powerful precedent for other farmers seeking to rezone their land.
The decision prompted Glendening to make a rare intervention into a local zoning issue. He criticized the two commissioners who favored the project, Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, for their decision and he indicated that Carroll's requests for well permits and road and school construction would receive a cool reception from the state.
State planning officials and John W. Frece, Glendening's special assistant for Smart Growth, declined to comment yesterday.
"If the state sees that there were much more qualified people who applied for the job, and Claude is appointed to the position, Carroll County could experience problems getting state funding or permits for projects, as we have for the past year," Ilioff said.
Rash, 62, a retired dairy farmer who believes in the sanctity of property rights, was one of four finalists for the position. Seventeen people applied for the job, which the county twice advertised.
"I'm quite pleased," Rash said of the recommendation. "I think it's great."
Members of the planning panel refused to comment.
Rash is hopeful the strife surrounding his rezoning case will not adversely affect his chances of being appointed zoning administrator. "I don't think it will have any bearing on the outcome," Rash said.
The commissioners are expected to weigh the planning panel's recommendation before making a decision. They are not required to appoint the planning panel's recommended candidate. It was not clear yesterday when the Board of County Commissioners would take action.
"We haven't gotten the recommendation yet," said Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the board.
The planning commission's recommendation was based on resumes submitted to the county Department of Human Resources. None of the candidates was interviewed by the panel, county officials said.
If Rash is appointed zoning administrator, he would replace the commissioners' executive assistant, Robert A. "Max" Bair, who has been serving as acting zoning administrator since Jan 18.
The part-time job is expected to pay an annual salary of about $19,850 and require the successful candidate to work 18.5 hours a week. In the past, the job was a full-time post. However, the commissioners shifted responsibility for zoning enforcement two weeks ago to the Department of Permits, Inspection and Review, leaving the state's second-fastest-growing county with the smallest zoning department in the metropolitan area.
The zoning administrator's main responsibility is to interpret the zoning ordinance and work with the commissioners when they want to change the law. The administrator also conducts monthly hearings on zoning variances and will work closely with the Department of Permits, Inspection and Review to resolve zoning complaints.
Carroll County has 306 open investigations of reported violations ranging from lighted signs in front of businesses to abandoned vehicles in residential areas. Of those, 201 are complaints the county has not investigated in more than a year, county officials said.