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Members of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission knew that, at some point, the county's comprehensive land-use review, known as Pathways, would have a conclusion.

But they never imagined it would be like this.

In the wake of last week's 6-0 vote by the commission to halt Pathways -- a plan that had been under way since 2005 -- members this week reflected on how Pathways lost its path, and why they voted to kill it.

Instead of Pathways, the commission voted instead to simply update the county's 2000 master plan, a move that will satisfy state requirements that master plans be updated once every six years. (See story, Page 7.)

This week, several members spoke with The Eagle to discuss why they thought the plan had to be shelved. Members Charles Chadwick and Alec Yeo did not return calls requesting comment.

Some cited citizen opposition to elements of Pathways, including provisions to create new business parks and issues related to agricultural land rights.

If it was difficult coming to a consensus on smaller items, how long would it take to agree on bigger issues?

"It was getting to the point where we were changing everything," commission member Dennis Wertz, of Hampstead, said. "We still had a lot of controversial items to consider."

Chairman David Brauning, of Finksburg, was the only commission member who commented during the vote to halt Pathways, and he said a combination of a sour economy, declining county revenues and an upcoming election season created a perfect storm -- one that Pathways couldn't ride out.

Public overreaction?

Several commission members said public reaction to the plan helped kill it -- and that those reactions were often over-the-top.

Hundreds of people poured into high school auditoriums during the summer expressing their resent for parts of the plan, some threatening litigation and others forming community groups. Members said they were accused of having personal, political and financial motives in the plan.

"The way the public interacted with this plan, it was 'Jerry Springer' mentality," said planning commission member Melvin Baile Jr., of New Windsor.

"The blood isn't on the hands of the planning commission or the county commissioners," Baile said. "The blood is on the hands of the people because they couldn't find one thing they liked about the plan.

"That tells me they didn't know the document intimately and didn't understand the planning commission was diligently going through the plan," he said. "It's a shame that it has gone the way it has."

Commission member Robert Slade of Greenmount agreed.

"I think the staff and (county planning director) Steve Horn took a lot of criticisms that they didn't deserve" Slade said. "They are honorable people who are trained professionals that love this county."

Some of the largest opposition to Pathways was in regard to office park and employment zoning proposed in Mount Airy and Taylorsville. As a compromise, the employment zone was removed from the plan and overlay zoning was instituted as a replacement -- something not all commission members preferred.

Commission members wondered if residents understood the implications. Baile said sometimes he didn't understand the opposition's logic.

"People went to the microphone saying people don't want to work where they live -- and (they) got the biggest applause," Baile said. "(Also they said,) 'We don't need to bring in employment opportunities in Carroll County. We're willing to pay higher property taxes.'

"It's absolutely, positively hilarious," he said, "because people I rub elbows with don't want to pay higher property taxes."

Brauning agreed.

"If you live in Mount Airy and have a job that's comparable, why do you want to drive from Mount Airy to Germantown?" he said. "I think a few people can influence a lot of people, and they don't think things through."

Commission member Wayne Schuster, of Eldersburg, said he thought the public presented a lot of great ideas and the fiery tone by some residents didn't bother him.

"I embraced the community opposition," Schuster said. "I'm old enough and been in the public venue long enough to know that people are going to accuse you of things and you just got to get past that."

Wertz said some people over reacted, but efforts to get information out to people could have been better.

"Ideally, these plans that are being proposed should be as painless as possible," Wertz said. "You're not going to make everyone happy."

Schuster said although staff held meetings throughout the Pathways process, more people should have been involved.

"In retrospect, given the amount of opposition based on non participation, I would have done more of an outreach at the staff level to go out and talk to the communities first," he said.

"I don't think it's the county staff's fault," Slade said. "People get busy with their lives and have other obligations, and people don't know the significance of this."

Dollars and sense

Economics was an issue at the heart of Pathways -- and played a role in its demise, according to some commission members.

One of the goals of Pathways was to find space for office parks and business park employment centers that would generate jobs -- and tax revenue -- for the county while preventing runaway retail uses.

Staff identified 3,500 acres of potential employment land based on a consultant's study, but that led the commission to worry about a chicken-and-egg dilemma:

Which would come first -- business development to fuel county coffers, or the need for funding to get those areas ready for growth?

Several of the areas are outside public water and sewer service, and infrastructure costs were estimated at at least $177 million to attract businesses in those employment clusters.

"In order to entice companies ... there are certain things you need like water, sewer and roads," Brauning said.

"If you forward funded these improvements, we wouldn't see the money available to do it," he said. "It's a question of dollars and cents."

Slade said companies can contribute to such projects, but it's not realistic to ask companies to foot the entire bill, and then build the infrastructure, because companies can easily go elsewhere.

"If you're trying to bring in a large company that provides a living-wage job, you're hesitant to come into Carroll County because you don't have access that other areas do, with the exception of the area around I-70," he said. "But (the Mount Airy) area near I-70 has environmental limitations."

Schuster noted elements of the plan that wanted to make communities more pedestrian friendly by adding sidewalks and improving roads. Most of that money comes from the state, he said, and there's no way to count on it.

"There may be less revenues long term to the state, which would affect less money to the county," he said.

Commission members said they simply worried that there was not enough money to implement ideas.

"I was never feeling constrained, but I was feeling the ... pressure of not knowing how the overall economy would affect what we would be doing," Schuster said.

Politics aside

Carroll residents will go to the polls next year to elect an expanded Board of County Commissioners -- five members by district.

The Pathways plan would have likely come together during that election season, and that uncertainty, and the changing makeup of the board, played a role in the thinking of some planning commission members.

"If we're going to make all these so-called recommendations and changes and it's not going to be supported, we might as well update the 2000 master plan and let the next Board of County Commissioners have input," Brauning said.

Wertz added, "You want whoever is in elected office to be supportive of the plan."

Schuster also had concerns how elections could affect the plan.

"If you're trying to struggle with new ideas, things can be twisted (in an election)," he said.

The current County Commissioners -- Julia Gouge, Dean Minnich and Michael Zimmer -- have each expressed concerns with some aspects of Pathways, but have not said whether they would have voted against it.

But Baile said he heard from county staff that the commissioners would not approve the plan, describing it as dead on arrival.

Baile said the commissioners may have a "better pulse" to what the community is saying, and he said, "If that's the way the direction the commissioners wanted to take, then so be it."

user comments (1)

user says...

Pathways dead-end- A Citizen perspective I was troubled and amused by the semantics used by some members of our P&Z Commission that bordered on condescension toward Pathways' opponents. These characterizations toward citizens included "over the top" and a "Jerry Spring mentality". Before responding to these remarks, I will give credit where credit is due. Overall, I believe our P&Z Commission, chaired by David Brauning did an honorable job of vetting many of the concerns voiced by our citizen groups. Additionally, kudos to Messrs Schuster and Yeo for their adroit participation. Much of the Commission's discourse was intelligent, thoughtful, and measured. Nonetheless, I remain concerned some members of the commission and county government continue to view this process from an unhealthy perspective. Let's set the record straight. First and foremost, the Pathways' citizen involvement process was woefully managed from day-one. Rather than recount specific inadequacies, I will go straight to the bottom-line. Three years into this Plan, after an epic battle, 80% of our citizens still have no idea what Pathways is, and those familiar with the Plan oppose it by an overwhelming margin. Second, development of a new municipal plan (Pathways) should not be predicated on the wishes of a handful of planners or politicians that promulgate their vision of what is "good" for the county. Frankly, it doesn't matter what they want. We live in a democratic republic, and many moved here to escape the urbanization promoted by Smartgrowth. It's easy to get lost in two hundred pages of Pathways' "stepping stones; visions; WHI; MPDU's; MXO; and OPEs". The fact is, our citizens understood all too well these terms translated into a dramatic change in the rural fabric of our County. They boil down to two basic concepts: Urbanization and Commercialization on a grand scale. We also understand Pathways would have preserved farmland by downzoning farmers' development rights, but most of us subscribe to constitutional beliefs that preclude us from supporting zoning tyranny against our neighbors and friends. As a matter of simple morality, we don't do it. What moral code does government subscribe to as a basis for its punitive actions? Sprawl is a problem, but two wrongs don't make a right. Furthermore, our current problems seem less daunting when compared to Pathways' office parks, parking lots, and government sponsored housing initiatives combined with density zoning that would spur urbanization and forever change the fabric of our beloved County. It is government that simply doesn't "get-it". Pathways was "over the top". We like our small rural towns. We don't want massive office parks and city-like streets throughout our towns that resemble something from Gaithersburg. If this means we have to drive to work in order to preserve our rural environment, so be it. Besides, office parks are a two-way street. They also bring congestion. Notwithstanding the above, we understand there is always room for improvement, and we are not opposed to responsible change. Our citizens will support "targeted" improvements. These may include: more sidewalks and bike paths; fine-tuning of zoning on specific parcels that respects private property rights, and creative agricultural preservation that respects our farmers' land rights. In fact, I will soon propose a plan to accomplish this that is more equitable and cost effective. I believe citizens will support additional provisions for senior housing and may support modest zoning adjustments to permit development of less expensive homes. However, we will not support a U.N.Agenda-21 Smartgrowth plan that goes "a bridge too far" by forcing broad new zoning templates upon us that are incompatible with Carroll's existing rural agricultural diversity that we wish to preserve. Our citizens were frustrated for good reason. Comments by one County employee to the effect, "Let them vent." are indicative of condescension and dismissal. At NO TIME during the public hearings process were we permitted to have any two-way dialogue with the County or the Zoning Commission. This must be changed. During P&Z work sessions, our citizen groups should be permitted to select a few designated spokespersons that may respond to County testimony immediately prior to each vote to ensure citizens remain a relevant part of the process. In the absence of continued dialogue, frustration reigns, and our only voice is through editorials and political ultimatums. Finally, I reject any assertions that rejection of Pathways somehow foreshadows citizen acquiescence to higher taxes. It does not. I believe it indicates citizens are prepared to support the tough decisions necessary in order to trim spending, while concurrently preserving critical services and safety nets for our elderly and disabled. Carroll's citizens have spoken loudly and clearly. They will not tolerate overreaching government. Richard Rothschild Mount Airy, Maryland Pending Candidate for District 4 County Commissioner

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