“Degrees of freedom” is a mathematical term for the number of factors that affect a given outcome.
“Oh geez. Is there going to be quiz at the end of this article?”
No. Don’t worry. This is a pass-fail post and you’ve already passed just by showing up and reading it.
Having too many degrees of freedom means having more variables than the data you need to answer a given question. Too many variables. It’s the problem the Carroll County Planning Department keeps giving the Board of Commissioners – and the people of Eldersburg – every time the Board is charged with approving a comprehensive plan or even the rezoning of a major property.
Plain and simple, neither the Board nor the public has enough information to make up its mind.
Let’s talk about large store commercialization, but the same argument applies to the Planning Department’s recommendations for high density “affordable housing.”
For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that the Planning Department recommends changing some properties from B-NR – Neighborhood Retail which caps individual store sizes at 10,000 SF – to C-2 that allows stores up to 100,000 SF or C-3 which basically allows the developer to build whatever will fit on the property.
People living nearby the affected properties are understandably upset and the Board of Commissioners doesn’t know what to do. And that’s because there are two extra variables that the Board and residents need to take into account, need to include in their decision-making, but can’t.
Extra variable 1… If the Board approves rezoning to C2 or C3, what, exactly, is the developer going to put on the property?
Will it be…
- A Costco with cars waiting in line for its discount gas?
- A hard rock club like Hammerjack’s in Baltimore?
- A movie theater complex?
- A nice hotel with banquet facilities for a weddings and other family celebrations?
- An office building?
- A medical arts building?
- A campus for tech company startups?
- Who knows what?
Makes a big difference, doesn’t it? If you live next door, you’re worried about that Costco or Hammerjack’s, but then there are other options that you might find acceptable and that would enhance your community and encourage meaningful growth countywide.
The point is, if the application or the County’s plans for rezoning doesn’t tell the Board the specific land use that will result from that rezoning, decision-making is difficult to impossible. Current County zoning classifications, including the new ones, are way too general. Lists of “permitted uses” for a given zoning classification cannot allow too much leeway. Nor can decisions about the use of a given rezoned property be deferred until when a site plan is submitted for review.
“Wait a minute. This is free market. We can’t be telling property owners what they can or cannot put on their land. “Property owners have rights!”
What you just heard there is a familiar argument made by the County planners – and by the Planning and Zoning Commission in particular. At the risk of being impolite, that’s nonsense. The whole process of planning and zoning is all about telling property owners what they can and should do with their land. …Oh, and while property owners do have rights – Of course they do. – so do the people and established businesses that live adjacent and nearby those properties and throughout the affected communities.
Extra variable 2… Impact. If the Board approves the rezoning of a specific property or many properties as part of a comprehensive plan, what will be the impact of that rezoning?
What will be the effects of major project or comprehensive rezoning on…
- Stormwater runoff and other environmental issues.
- Residential property values in the affected area.
- Net employment and income in the community.
- County tax revenues versus the costs of infrastructure and other un-reimbursed expenses associated with development and resultant growth.
- Neighborhood crime.
- Ambient lighting and noise in the affected neighborhoods.
- Population growth or decline.
The Board of Commissioners needs to send back the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan for further work, because it’s more important to get it done right than right away.
And put a moratorium on rezoning until a new plan is approved an implemented.
Tell the Planning Department to get the Plan back to you with two enhancements, two fewer degrees of freedom…
1. With more specific, more helpful zoning classifications.
2. With thoughtful, detailed impact analysis – by independent specialists if necessary. Whatever the costs, it’ll be well worth the investment.
The County’s planners, now under Lynda Eisenberg, are good, smart, dedicated professionals. Give them the encouragement and resources they need. They’ll get it done and the County, including Eldersburg, will be better for it.