A month after a judge forced them to approve a 254-unit development in Eldersburg or face jail time, members of the Carroll County planning commission are hesitant to approve even a few building lots.
Carrolltowne 4B, set for a 20-acre parcel on Kali Drive near Ridge Road, would add rental townhouses to the county's most populous and fastest-growing area, which is already coping with crowded schools and roads, water shortages and strained emergency services.
"If Carrolltowne moves forward, everything in South Carroll will be on hold for a long time," said County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who also serves on the planning commission.
The commission reviewed three residential lots last week.
"It is frustrating to debate a [small] development after we were forced to approve 254 units," said Michael R. Guerin, the only member of the planning commission to vote against complying with the judge's order.
In a June 30 ruling, Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway ordered the planning commission to approve the site plan for Carrolltowne 4B or be held in contempt.
In a 3-to-1 vote July 19, the commission acquiesced to the judge's order.
The county has asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to reverse Galloway's order to the planning commission and has asked Galloway to issue a stay of his decision, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Without a stay during the appeal, the plan may move through the county's development review process, which typically takes about 18 months.
Last week, Carrolltowne's attorney Benjamin Rosenberg filed a renewed petition in the case, seeking to have the planning commission members jailed for civil contempt to force them to comply with the court order, claiming that their approval in July was insufficient, said County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender. It adds as a defendant alternate commission member Robert Slade, who did not sit until this month, Millender said.
"Basically, we've received it; we're reviewing it and we'll be preparing a vigorous defense on behalf of the planning commission members," Millender said. Although the new petition seeks a speedy hearing, she said, "normally in a contempt hearing, the defendant has at least 20 days prior to the hearing date."
The planning commission had denied the Carrolltowne project three times since 1995, based on crowded classrooms, congested roads, insufficient water supply and strained emergency services. Galloway, however, agreed with the developer that a six-year-old court ruling that ordered the panel to approve the development was still applicable.
Uncertainty over the appeal and the potential impact of the Carrolltowne townhouses made commission members wary in other cases.
"I would be sorry to say 'no' to a three-lot developer, but it can't be business as usual," said Wayne B. Schuster, a planning commissioner. "We need to test every subdivision with and without the possibility of Carrolltowne.
"We have to get a grip on this and understand the impacts," Schuster said. "Carrolltowne needs to be considered in the queue. We really should not move forward with any developments in South Carroll until we know what happens if 254 units get in the queue."
The county overhauled its growth-related laws in 2004 as part of its yearlong freeze on residential development. Even the smallest subdivision plans are now subject to the adequate public facilities ordinance, which determines whether roads, schools and emergency services are sufficient.
"By putting projects in a queue, all we are saying is, 'You are on the list. If your number comes up, when we have capacity, you can move on,' " said David L. Brauning, planning commission chairman.
Water shortages are already postponing projects in South Carroll until the $14 million expansion of the area's water treatment plant provides relief, possibly by 2007.
The commission allowed two small projects into the queue. Since the planned new homes will not hook into the public water system, officials said they will probably move forward.
Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.