Freedom Plan hearing draws criticism, residents reluctant to change

More than 100 residents of Eldersburg and Sykesville came out Wednesday night for a public hearing on the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan.

Many of those in attendance came to Liberty High School to lament the plan’s vision of growth for an area they wish to preserve, but a few said the change would be good for the residents and future generations.

“I’ve lived here for 36 years,” said Pat Hasenei at the microphone on July 11. “I remember when you could hear the crickets at night, and you could see the stars in the sky at night. It was beautiful.

“I don't hear the crickets any more,” she said. “And I can’t really see the stars at night any more. … My little piece of land I have is my little sanctuary — I think the other people here also have their little sanctuaries — and everybody needs a little place to go. … With the townhouses and everything, you are taking away our sanctuaries.”

The plan proposes changing the land use designations of certain areas in Freedom to better reflect the development that has already occurred there, according to Lynda Eisenberg, acting director of the Planning Department, and to stay true to the vision for Carroll County’s largest unincorporated area to be one designated for economic growth.

But Hasenei said she was there with the other people in the school auditorium Wednesday night pleading for county staff to listen to their concerns as their vision for the area is not the same.

She said she isn’t a senior yet, but wants to continue living in the Freedom area until she is.

Others who spoke were seniors and said they were concerned about how to keep Freedom safe and beautiful, as it was when they decided to stay for the long haul.

Lois Shipley said she and her husband built their first home in Carroll County in 1966.

“We have seen a lot,” she said. “When we first moved here, my oldest son was in the Cub Scouts. [I remember] him and another scout on the intersection of [Md.] 32 and [Md.] 26, counting cars to see if it warranted a yellow flashing light — so you see the changes we have made.

When she downsized and moved to the Homeland Condominiums in Eldersburg, a community for seniors, she felt safe at first, she said. But now things are changing and she isn’t so sure about her future.

“Our family was happy we were coming there, and it was good for us,” said Shipley. “But now that we are in our final chapters of the book of life, we shouldn’t become worried about who’s going to come from behind and slit our tires or something like that. In my opinion, you are discriminating against elders and this is elder abuse.”

A few other residents from the same condominiums off Liberty Road also spoke about their concerns that the property adjacent to them was slated, according to the Freedom Plan, to accommodate high-density commercial activity instead of just small, local businesses with a maximum of 10,000 square feet.

In addition to safety for seniors and families, residents commented on the dangers of increased traffic without changes to the roads in Freedom — many of which have one or two lanes at most — and the risks growth poses to sewer systems, gas availability and other infrastructure.

They asked the Planning and Zoning Commission what it was doing to protect the quality of life for residents who have stayed in the Freedom area for generations and put their money into assets there, namely their homes.

But the meeting was not a question-and-answer session, so the commission just listened as residents came up one-by-one to share their qualms, and at times support.

One Eldersburg resident, Kim Madeja, told the Times Thursday the Planning Department’s claim that the plan is supposed to better reflect current usage is “disingenuous at best” because the landowners who did agree to density increases on their land were solicited to do so “without any thought to the impact on long-established surrounding neighborhoods.

“The vast majority of the Freedom area understands growth will occur,” she said. “However, we expect and deserve predictable consistent growth that is compatible with surrounding neighborhoods.”

Madeja also said that while the county is also determining changes to its outdated zoning codes, it doesn’t make sense to move forward with the Freedom plan’s land use changes.

“Our county staff and commissioners must come to the realization this county cannot continue to grow with zoning codes written in the 1960s,” she said. “They have no basis in the reality of 2018 and can’t begin to adequately address the societal and technological changes and growth we see now… it is imperative we update our antiquated zoning codes before proceeding with the adoption of the Freedom Plan.”

Of those at the hearing who support the vision of growth in the Freedom area, including plans to diversify housing, were two members of the Carroll Community College staff.

“I moved here [from Indiana] for a job,” said Jane Frazier, assistant director of theater and entertainment technology, “and I knew the cost of living here was a lot more expensive than Indiana. But overall, that high cost, you see that in housing.

“I was told when I was hired here to look for housing, but not here,” she said. “That Pennsylvania would be my best bet as it as much less expensive to live there, and still a close commute … however, I really want to live in the same community where I work, and I believe that it makes our county stronger.”

She said she doesn’t want a house because she works too much to take care of all the maintenance, that a townhouse would be perfect for her, but where she lives currently the rent continues to increase at a rate of 9 percent, while her salary only increases about 3 percent.

“I have a master of fine arts degree, 18-plus years of experience, a good job,” said Frazier. “and community is very important to me. But I am currently looking outside of Carroll County, mainly due to rent prices.

“If the county could supply affordable housing and a variety of housing,” she said, “then I could stay here, work here and live here, and give back to my community, my county. If the county can’t do that, I will need to take myself elsewhere — perhaps to a different state and possibly even to a different job altogether. I would love to stay in this beautiful county, and I promise you all that if I move into your area I will not bring crime here.”

The plan in its entirety, including changes to the plan’s vision statement, clarified definitions for land use designations, and more information on potential future changes to water and sewer services as the area continues to grow, can be found at www.freedomareaplan.org.

The Planning Commission will meet again to discuss the plan on July 18 and the Board of County Commissioners will hold a public hearing before the 90-day period before adoption begins.

“It’s always good to have community engagement so people could come out and we could see what their concerns are,” Eisenberg said after the hearing.

jennifer.turiano@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7898

twitter.com/jturianoCCT

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