A citizen activist opposed to zoning changes that could swell the population in the western part of the county is urging residents there to "turn out by the hundreds" at a public hearing in Glenelg Wednesday to oppose what he says is the government's "agenda for staged growth for the west."
An ad hoc citizens' commission appointed by the County Council last January scheduled the hearing to help determine ifor how western Howard County might lend itself to development and preserve open space under a village or clustering concept.
John S. Taylor, president of a citizens' lobby called Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, thinks the seven-member Rural Residential Land Use Study Commission may have already made that determination.
Taylor wrote letters to local newspapers this week implying thatdevelopment interests led by attorney Richard D. Talkin may have unduly influenced the seven-member commission.
Taylor did not mentioncommission member Talkin by name, referring to him instead as a non-resident zoning attorney who has "substantial land interests in Clarksville."
Talkin, a Columbia-based attorney who represents citizens' groups as well as developers, is the only non-resident on the commission. In an interview Friday, Taylor said he was referring to Talkinin the letter.
Taylor said Talkin has "alternately suggested placing all west development into one big village, running Columbia into the west, and setting aside large parcels of land for future suburbangrowth."
In addition, Sam G. Crozier, a landscape architect recommended by Talkin and selected by the committee as a consultant, has "sought to increase the level of development planned for the west . . . (and) referred to the west as underdense and underdeveloped," Taylor told citizens in his letters.
Taylor said Friday his concerns about Talkin were based on the fact that it was Talkin who "essentiallypicked (Crozier) and the commission has been relying a lot" on what he said.
Also, Talkin "has more experience than anyone on the committee and whenever they need technical guidance, they turn to Dick," Taylor said.
Talkin declined to return telephone calls.
Commission members say Taylor's two-page letter is not only a disservice to Talkin, but to the commission itself, which they say has considered all viewpoints very openly. Members acknowledged that Talkin was instrumental in recommending consultants, but said it was not a handicap.
Taylor's letter "is unfortunate," said commission chairman Ted Mariani of Daisy. "It does not truly reflect" the commission's deliberations of the last 14 weeks.
Mariani described his fellow commissionmembers as "very reasonable people who seek a common ground rather than force a bias" on one another.
"We have posed some alternativesfor citizen response," Mariani said of the commission's plans for Wednesday's 7:30 p.m. hearing at Glenelg High School. But "nothing has been pinned down, nothing has been voted upon."
People attending the hearing will be given fact sheets about the amount of land left inthe western part of the county and the development that has occurredthere. They also will be shown slides of three types of clustered residential housing alternatives and asked to share opinions about those alternatives.
Afterward, the commission will pull together its findings and make recommendations to the County Council regarding the use of rural villages and clustered residences as a way of preservingfarmland. "Hopefully, we will develop a mechanism that sits well with everyone," Mariani said.
Taylor doubts it. He said in his letterthat "this whole business of villages and cluster zones strikes me as an agenda of staged growth for the west, hidden by glossy slides and pleasant talk of rolling, permanent open space."
Commission member Ann Jones Koch, who has lived in the western part of the county nearly all her life and has been active in land preservation issues, thinks Taylor is off the mark.
"If anybody is concerned about (the western portion of the county) not going crazy (with development,) it's me," she said. "I am convinced that regulations can be written thatwill protect that land in perpetuity."
Taylor disagrees. He said in his letter he was told "on the side" by unnamed commission membersthat "truly permanent preservation of open space is unlikely."
Taylor told readers the commission considered two types of village concepts even though the Department of Planning and Zoning "noted that there were significant problems with both examples."
At Lisbon, "thecommission considered 190 town houses along with 187 homes on one-sixth-acre lots," Taylor said, and "at Glenwood, 160 town houses and 66homes on quarter-acre lots." Additional sites include Clarksville, Highland, Cooksville and West Friendship, he said.
Koch said the commission had requested the Department of Planning and Zoning prepare the village concepts to show what might happen in places where villages of a sort already exist. The commission has "never given any serious consideration to locating a village on a map," she said.
She said there was no support on the commission for the Columbia-sized village that Taylor referred to in his letter, and no decision has been made about the population and size of a smaller village. "We're takingthis to a public hearing to see what people think."
Taylor is unconvinced. He told readers he believes the commission will be making "a very slanted presentation" at the hearing.
Commission chairman Mariani said he hopes the people who come to the hearing will not be unduly influenced by Taylor's letter, which he described as the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.
"We want people to come prepared to reason and listen without (having formed) jaundiced views beforehand," he said.