If a Fortune 500 company expressed interest in building an industrial campus along Carroll's southern suburban strip, the county commissioners would be elated - momentarily.
Then reality would set in.
The county has little marketable industrial land, particularly in the Eldersburg area of South Carroll, where expensive new subdivisions, big-box stores and chain restaurants line bustling Route 26. Much as it would like to, Carroll wouldn't be able to accommodate such a project.
Smart Growth initiatives championed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening dictate that commercial and industrial construction occur in areas that are already developed, such as Eldersburg, but a long-standing intergovernmental watershed agreement prevents the Carroll commissioners from directing industrial growth there.
This is the quandary the commissioners and their economic development team find themselves in: They want new industries but have nowhere to put them.
Faced with this problem, a divided board of commissioners is expected to rezone hundreds of mostly rural acres in the watershed for development, snubbing the governor and neighboring jurisdictions while threatening to pollute Liberty Reservoir, the region's chief source of drinking water, which straddles the Carroll-Baltimore County line, and Prettyboy Reservoir in northern Baltimore County.
In the past decade, residential growth in Carroll has outpaced commercial and industrial development, crowding classrooms and straining police and emergency services. Businesses contribute 12 percent to Carroll's tax base - the lowest percentage in the Baltimore region - and the county has just 200 acres of attractive industrial land equipped with much-desired natural gas lines and other public utilities.
"We need at least 1,000 more acres of marketable industrial land," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Without it, we simply can't attract big business."
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said, "We understand the intent of the watershed agreement, and we don't want to develop in a way that would threaten the reservoir. But, logically, businesses want to be in our planned growth areas, where there's water and sewer.
"Smart Growth says that's where we should direct density housing, industrial development and commercial growth. But the watershed agreement ties our hands because it says we can't rezone anything in the watershed areas. It's a difficult challenge to meet Smart Growth and follow the watershed agreement."
As a result, Jack T. Lyburn, Carroll's economic development director, has said that he has turned away prospective industries because Carroll does not have sites ready for development. He refused to name the companies that have expressed interest in moving to Carroll.
Like many Maryland counties, Carroll has hopes of attracting high-tech employers in the electronics, computer and service industries, the kind that offer high-paying jobs.
Those efforts have been unsuccessful. The best deal the county has been able to broker in recent years has been the construction of a 1 million-square-foot warehouse for Sweetheart Cup, a company that employs about 100 blue-collar workers on the outskirts of Hampstead.
To increase the amount of land earmarked for industrial growth in Carroll, Dell and Frazier have for months been pushing to change wording in the Reservoir Watershed Protection Agreement so that Carroll land covered by it can be rezoned for business.
The agreement is designed to safeguard land surrounding the metropolitan area's three watershed areas. Nearly all 9,200 acres of the Liberty Reservoir watershed and a much smaller portion of the Prettyboy are in Carroll.
"The agreement says that conservation and agricultural land should be maintained and not reduced in the watershed," Frazier said. "On the surface, if you didn't know where the watershed is, that sounds good. But the watershed encompasses 40 percent of the county, including all or part of five of our nine planned growth areas: Manchester, Hampstead, Westminster, Eldersburg and Finksburg."
Dell said, "The areas in the watershed are most appropriate for industrial development. That's where we have infrastructure. We don't want to rezone land in the western part of the county because we're aggressively trying to preserve agricultural land there."
Carroll ranks among the top counties nationally in agricultural preservation. The county has about 300,000 acres of farmland and has set a goal of preserving at least one-third of it - 100,000 acres - by 2020. It has protected 33,473 acres.
Unwilling to direct industrial growth to areas targeted for farmland preservation, Dell and Frazier would like to carve industrial sites out of land in the county's watershed areas.
To accomplish that, they must persuade the watershed agreement's signatories to alter the document or move forward without the other jurisdictions' blessing and risk their wrath.
The commissioners' efforts to revise the document have been unsuccessful, stymied by Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who object strongly to rezoning rural land in the watershed for fear that business development could contaminate Liberty Reservoir.
"Now is not the time to be relaxing our watershed protection efforts, ..." O'Malley wrote to the three-member board of commissioners in a letter dated Feb. 7.
"The City of Baltimore is sensitive to the right of every jurisdiction in making land use policy within its boundaries and the need for a balanced approach between economic growth and environmental stewardship. However, the protection of the water supply for 1.8 million consumers must be weighted in these decisions."
Despite such strong opposition to development in the watershed, the commissioners are proceeding with plans to consider rezoning 46 properties totaling nearly 1,000 acres. Twenty-seven of the properties, totaling 681 acres, lie in Carroll's watershed areas.
When the watershed agreement came up for renewal in 1996, Dell and Frazier refused to sign. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, the board president, wants to sign the agreement as it is written, but Dell and Frazier have protested.
"Smart Growth is attempting to channel new growth into locally and state agreed upon growth areas. That is the goal of our program," said John Frece, special assistant to the governor for Smart Growth. "But the governor has a much broader view of environmental protection in the state, and he would not want to do anything that would harm the water resource for the entire Baltimore metropolitan area.
"In this situation, you have to ask what is the greatest good for the greatest number," Frece said. "And the greatest good for the greatest number clearly is to protect that water resource."
The state's advice does not sit well with Dell and Frazier.
"Smart Growth means squeezed out," Dell said at the annual state of the county address last month. "No swing set, no sandbox, no space left for the American dream."