Carroll Report Maryland Muckraker

Muckraker: ‘Compromise’: Commissioners decide on commercial height limit after storage facility lawsuit, pushback

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A home in Eldersburg that would have been near a proposed 50 foot tall storage facility, the developers of the facility withdrew their plans after residents filed a lawsuit

On Thursday, the Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted unanimously to lower the starting height limit for commercial buildings that adjoin residential properties, going from 50 feet down to 35 feet.

But they simultaneously implemented a sliding scale, permitting developers to build back up to 50 feet on the condition they add in additional setback over the required minimum of 15 feet, where every foot of extra setback unlocks another foot of height, not to exceed 50 feet.

Commissioner Mike Guerin motioned to remove the sliding scale, making 35 feet a hard cap, but the remaining four Commissioners voted against his motion.

Explaining why he was against Guerin’s motion, Commissioner Ed Rothstein said “we don’t have the revenue,” as he observed that 225 of the 1,106 commercially zoned properties in Carroll are adjacent to residential districts, and would be affected by the decision, the hard 35 foot cap making those properties less valuable. “We have to grow where appropriate,” he concluded.

Graphic demonstrating where commercial properties are adjacent to residential districts in Carroll County

Also in favor of keeping the sliding scale was Commissioner Ken Kiler, who felt it was a “realistic compromise.”

“It’s a balancing act” said Commissioner Tom Gordon. “It’s significant for both property rights as well as concerns of the neighbors.”

Lowering commercial height limits adjacent to residential properties became a visible issue in Carroll last year, when a 50 foot tall storage facility was set to be built at Carroll Highlands, an Eldersburg subdivision with a neighborhood characterized mostly by ranchers and split-levels built in the 1950s and 1960s, that the storage facility would have towered over.

After a town hall over the issue was attended by 200+ people, and a petition was signed by more than 2,000, one couple from the neighborhood, Joe and Nancy Lynch, eventually brought suit against the property’s owners, Pirone Investments LLC and Toth Investments LLC, and its would be developers, Broad Reach Retail Partners and PSC Liberty Road, who were collectively represented by Clark Shaffer and Matthew Hurff of Westminster’s Shaffer and Shaffer LLP.

Nancy and Joe Lynch speaking about the Carroll Highlands Storage Facility during a town hall that was attended by 200+ residents

The Lynch’s, represented by Towson attorney G. Macy Nelson, argued that a residential use only deed restriction dating back to 1955 was still in place on one of the property’s parcels, limiting the developers ability to build commercially there unless the residents of Carroll Highlands agreed to release the restriction, which they hadn’t.

(When a 7-11 gas station project was separately proposed in the same subdivision under the same deed restriction in 2019, Nick Pirone with Robyn Properties offered to write $1,000 checks to the first eight residents who agreed to release it.)

Nick Pirone’s 2019 letter to Carroll Highlands residents offering to write $1,000 checks to the first eight residents willing to release a residential use only deed restriction

Amidst the lawsuit and the public’s resistance, the storage facility’s developers eventually withdrew their plan, but residents continued to lobby for policies that would prevent another developer from coming in and trying the same thing.

Those polices included, as mentioned, reducing commercial building height limits, but perhaps more importantly, restricting the building of future multi-level storage facilities to properties zoned for industrial use only, instead of commercial which often borders on residential districts.

When District 4 Commissioner Mike Guerin learned that the county council in Prince George’s approved a bill doing just that, restricting future storage facilities to industrial properties, he raised the issue with his Commissioner counterparts.

After a months long review process, Carroll’s Planning and Zoning Commission returned with a proposal for the Commissioners on Thursday, including the sliding scale, and a policy of grandfathering in existing buildings, properties where a concept plan has already been submitted, or properties where the Board of Zoning Appeals has already granted conditional use.

Noticeably absent from Thursday’s conversation was the issue of restricting future storage facilities to industrially zoned properties only, though the Commissioners did acknowledge they could take that up separately in the future. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.

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