Commission member Richard Soisson, argued vehemently that the letter should be taken out, stating that it was “too property rights oriented”. Only Matt Helminiak voted to allow the letter to stay. He reasoned that there were important ideas in the letter and he asked that, if the letter did not stay in the plan, then the Commission consider adding portions of the verbiage to the plan itself.
The Master Plan has had controversy as P&Z Commission members debated whether to include a letter written and unanimously endorsed by the Board of Commissioners. This letter attempts to protect county land owners from state and federal attempts to diminish or steal their property rights. It includes stipulations such as, “Individual property ownership constitutes an asset of unique value, as well as a foundation of individual liberty for American citizens. This core value deserves priority consideration in all land use decision-making processes.” Commission members Alec Yeo, Chair, Eugene Canale, Cynthia Cheatwood and Jeffrey Wothers must have agreed with Soisson’s concern for the orientation in favor of property rights, as little if any other reason for removing the letter was given.
The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), are appointed by the County Board of Commissioners and are at the end of a multi-year process to update the county’s Master Plan. This Plan is what the county uses to determine how and where the county will grow in the future. It is a document which is supposed to be updated every six years, but Carroll County is working on a document from about 2002. When it is finished and passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission it goes to the Board of Commissioners to be voted on.
The decision on whether to include the letter was delayed until this week, while the Planning and Zoning Commission allowed the public to weigh in on the Master Plan via a link on the county web site or an email address to Commission members. The attempt to include the public is laudable, but there were two major problems with how the website feedback mechanism was set up. There was no mechanism that would prohibit someone from putting in multiple comments while pretending to be different people. There was also no attempt to establish that respondents were county residents. Because of these major flaws in the feedback system, use of these comments as any barometer should be limited.
The last version of the Master Plan created by the county was known as Pathways, and attempted to significantly rezone a large portion of the southwestern part of the county about five years ago. This plan faced huge public opposition and may have caused former Commissioners Julia Gouge and Dean Minnich to lose their re-elections. Commissioner Richard Rothschild won four years ago on a platform of property rights, less taxes and less government. He now sits on the P&Z Commission as a non-voting member and argued strenuously to have the Commissioners’ letter included in the Plan as a protection for county land owners.