Planners want Route 26 work made a priority
County planners said yesterday that obtaining state money for engineering work on improvements to Route 26 should be a priority in Carroll's transportation plan.
The county commissioners said they would consider the concept as long as it did not detract from efforts to have the state build a $50 million bypass around Hampstead.
Obtaining money for an estimated $3.5 million in engineering work on improvements to a 2.5-mile stretch of Route 26 might be a more feasible request to fill, given the state's fiscal constraints, county officials said.
"We have to reorganize our priority list to reflect construction, engineering and right-of-way projects," said Steven C. Horn, county planning director.
The commissioners stressed that the bypass must remain the top construction priority.
When state transportation officials visit Carroll this fall, the county will present them with a list of projects that need funding. "The problem in the past has been that Hampstead has always been our No. 1 priority and everything else dropped behind it," said Horn.
"If we can convince the state to move to the engineering stage for Route 26 and offer to contribute, we may have a chance."
The state developed a $20 million construction plan to improve a 2.5-mile stretch of the highway, also known as Liberty Road, with additional lanes, crosswalks and possibly bike paths. With community input, the state chose a design for the project and has most of the rights of way it needs. Until the engineering designs are completed, the project cannot get in line for construction funds.
The county has about $2 million set aside for the Route 26 project. Horn said he would seek the support of the county's legislative delegation before finalizing the list.
Decision on expansion at Fairhaven is delayed
The county commissioners deferred yesterday their decision on whether a $30 million expansion of Fairhaven Retirement Community in Sykesville should be exempted from Carroll's new growth freeze.
Fire officials and emergency workers have said the project, which would add 100 apartments to the facility and renovate 66 others, will severely strain their ability to deliver services.
"The impact you propose will overtax the area," said Steve Bitzel, a member of Sykesville-Freedom Volunteer Fire Company who attended a public hearing on the retirement community's request yesterday.
The county had asked the company's fire chief and emergency services captain to comment on the project. Neither responded or attended yesterday's hearing.
"If we get no comment, we assume there is no objection," said Steven Horn, county planning director.
All three commissioners said they would try again to contact fire officials to hear their opinions. Commissioner Perry L. Jones said he would phone the fire company leaders as soon as last night.
"I know they have concerns with response times," Jones said.
Fairhaven often uses its vehicles or contractors to transport its residents to area hospitals. Its statistics show that it relies on the area fire company for about 3 percent of its medical transportation.
"We should call them, go over the information from Fairhaven and ask if there is a problem," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "Fairhaven is a good neighbor who has always worked with us. But we have to know how this project affects the community."
Fairhaven has agreed to delay construction of 29 units until the water crisis in South Carroll eases. It has requested the exemption so it can proceed with the other work.
"There are two things we cannot ignore here," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "The aging population needs housing and there is an impact on emergency services. We have to accommodate both challenges."
Commissioners take time on zoning waiver request
The county commissioners said that they need more time to consider a Union Bridge developer's request for a waiver that would allow him to build senior housing and a community center on land with conservation zoning.
The commissioners said yesterday that they were concerned that approval would prompt more requests for building in conservation areas, which requires 3 acres for each building lot and includes restrictions to protect streams and wetlands.
"The fact is we are turning conservation land into housing and parking lots," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "Let's at least stop calling it conservation, if it is going to be developed. Are we keeping true to our intention to preserve land?"
The town has scheduled a public hearing Aug. 4 on a proposal to annex the 5-acre parcel, which includes a stream known as Cherry Branch, but it cannot change the zoning for five years if the county does not grant the waiver.
"I am really hesitant about this proposal that could set a precedent for conservation land," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "Once the annexation takes place, the town takes over and we are totally out of control."
The proposed zoning waiver would allow the developer to build as many as 10 houses an acre.
"I am certain the Town Council and planning commission will be hard-nosed with the developers and make sure this land is protected," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr., former mayor of Union Bridge.