The Carroll commissioners have delayed a vote that would expedite Westminster's efforts to annex and rezone a 93-acre parcel that the city hopes will support a subdivision.
The county cannot prevent the city from annexing and rezoning the Roop's Mill property, near Route 140 and Hughes Shop Road at the western tip of the city. But unless the commissioners grant a waiver, Westminster would have to wait five years to rezone all the property for residential use. The county once routinely granted such waivers, but with widespread concerns that rapid growth is straining Carroll's school, water and sewer capacities, the commissioners have become more cautious.
Preliminary plans show that Roop's Mill could support between 190 and 220 homes, with city laws allowing 80 to be built per year. Even if the county were to grant the waiver now, the first house probably wouldn't be built for two years, planning officials said. The surrounding area has the water, sewer and school capacity to support the new homes, Westminster officials said. The property features a well that would serve the subdivision and provide extra water for the city.
City leaders seemed surprised by the delay.
Town planner Shawn P. Siders left the hearing room briskly after the commissioners discussed Roop's Mill.
"I understand the pressures they're under," he said. "I understand they have to think about school and water resources. I guess this just puts us in a waiting mode."
Before delaying her vote, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she generally supports the city's desire to annex the Roop's Mill property, but believes the county first must contemplate all aspects of its growth-control policies.
"I want to understand the concurrency management situation before we accelerate growth through annexing," she said.
Concurrency management refers to guidelines designed to keep residential growth from overwhelming the county's school, water and other vital capacities. The plan says the county should limit growth to 1,000 new houses per year, and that number could be surpassed if municipalities such as Westminster continue annexing land for subdivisions, Frazier said.
Frazier's uncertainty appeared to anger fellow Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who asked why Frazier hadn't shown such caution when voting for previous laws that promoted residential growth.
Gouge said she supports the annexation, because further concentrating growth in a developed area would jibe with state Smart Growth policies and the county's master plan.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he opposes the annexation because he doesn't like to see towns taking agricultural land and rezoning it for residential use. About 27 of the property's 93 acres are zoned agricultural.
"Make the town wait the five years, and then they can take the blame for speeding up growth," Dell said.
An appointed panel recently finished reviewing the county's concurrency management plan. Frazier said she would reconsider the waiver once the commissioners discuss the panel's recommendations and assess future development plans in all eight Carroll municipalities.
Frazier said she hopes Westminster leaders won't take her uncertainty as a hostile gesture.
"It's not a battle," she said. "I think it's a good project, and I probably will vote for it, but we need to work out all of our numbers first. That's all."