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Carroll growth-freeze exemption possible

The Carroll County commissioners are scheduled this morning to consider a hardship clause that would exempt some financially strapped landowners from the county's recently implemented growth freeze.

County officials said they would not release details of the clause until today, but that it will be strict.

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"It will require proof of a real hardship such as possible foreclosure or the like," Steve Powell, county chief of staff, said yesterday. Powell declined to release the specific language of the clause because the commissioners will not see it until this morning.

Before passing the freeze, the commissioners heard complaints from several landowners who said they would be financially imperiled by the stricter development law. The commissioners replied that they would try to prevent such ruination by including the hardship clause.

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Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday that no specific case inspired his support for the hardship clause.

"I just want to make sure we have a safety valve in there ... so that no one will be really devastated," he said.

Powell said a few people have asked about filing hardship petitions since the freeze went into effect June 10. "But this is really more about the commissioners doing what they said they would do the day of the vote," he said.

The freeze closed the door to all new subdivision plans covered by the county's adequate-facilities laws, which are designed to prevent residential growth from overwhelming schools, roads and the water supply. It also halted plans that had passed earlier stages in the county's review process.

The freeze does not apply to developments of three or fewer lots, developments in the county's towns or developments that have been approved by the county Planning Commission.

The freeze met great opposition from the county's development community. Many builders said the commissioners could not legally delay plans that had passed adequate-facilities requirements.

Small developers who had purchased plots in hopes of subdividing and landowners who had begun developing their properties said they would be most severely harmed by the freeze.

Bruce Wentworth, owner of Carroll Homes Inc., said the freeze would deprive his company of its major project for the second half of the year. The Planning Commission was scheduled to consider Wentworth's plans for a seven-home subdivision in Gamber one week after the freeze went into effect.

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Wentworth has said he had spent $700,000 preparing his proposal and could not afford to have so much money tied up for a year. Wentworth has said he planned to file a financial hardship appeal, but he could not be reached for comment yesterday.


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