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Commissioners place limit on residential development


Faced with a burgeoning enrollment at Mount Airy Elementary School, the county commissioners decided yesterday to limit residential development in the unincorporated areas around the town to 50 lots a year.

The building limit, which can be reviewed at any time, takes effect immediately and will remain in place through 2007, the commissioners said.

Mount Airy Elementary, built in 1935 and expanded in 1987, has a capacity of 675 pupils. Its enrollment is 738 pupils. Next year, enrollment is projected at 833 and, by 2007, the number could reach 1,000.

"Mount Airy Elementary is projected to reach inadequate levels by 2003," said Steven C. Horn, county director of planning, who called for the building limit.

Monitoring infrastructure

Horn has talked to town planners about development planned within Mount Airy. The town, home to 5,600, could see construction of 1,000 homes in the next several years. Outside the town, about 90 lots are in the development pipeline, Horn said.

According to county planning policy, infrastructure such as schools and roads must keep pace with development or construction will be slowed.

"If we put a limit of 50 in place, we will still allow a few subdivisions to proceed," said Horn. "The real debate here will be happening in the town. The town is receptive to address the pace of growth."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said enrollment projections might mean the county would have to reconsider the schedule of school construction.

"The school system has not recognized until recently that Mount Airy is a growth area," Gouge said.

The numbers could justify a new school in 2007, Horn said.

"We must make sure we discuss this with the Board of Education," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "We are getting a red flag before this becomes a problem. This is exactly how it is supposed to work."

In other business, the commissioners voted 2-1 to delete a resolution from the Reservoir Watershed Management Agreement. Gouge refused to add her signature to the longstanding document that protects land surrounding the metropolitan water supply, unless the resolution remained.

The resolution reads, "In Baltimore and Carroll counties, conservation and agricultural zoning of the reservoir watersheds should be maintained and not reduced."

Problems with wording

Frazier and Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the wording hampers their authority to zone. They have proposed several industrial rezonings throughout the county, many in the watershed area, which covers about one-third of Carroll and includes five of the planned growth areas.

"The deletion gives us planning flexibility," Frazier said. "All the rest of the agreement is acceptable."

The revised agreement, which has not been reaffirmed since 1996, will be forwarded to Baltimore, Baltimore County and to the other metropolitan areas that have participated in it since 1984. Dell also wants a letter included that details Carroll's objections to the pact.

"I am willing to sign if we submit a letter that gives our positions on the contradictions in the agreement," he said. "It says that nothing shall limit our authority and then has a strategy that does just that."

Gouge, who is president of the three-member board of commissioners, has said she wants to sign the agreement as it now reads. She said she doubts other executives will agree to the revision, which she feels will undermine safeguards to the water supply for millions of people.

"As far as I am concerned, we have signed the agreement," said Frazier.

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