When Bruce Wells moved to Harford County in 1989, he began looking for a way to help preserve the rural character that had attracted him and his family.
Wells says he wanted to ensure that Harford didn'tbecome packed with the houses and tangled in the gridlock traffic heleft behind in Baltimore County's Middle River area.
The best way he could find to achieve that goal was to join the Community Coalition of Harford County, formed in 1988 to address land-use and environmental issues.
Today, the 37-year-old Abingdon resident is the group's president. But he's just one of about 100 individuals and 30 community associations that have taken up the gauntlet toprovide citizens a strong voice in charting the county's future.
The group's priority has been to offer elected officials and government administrators a citizen's perspective on current community issues, from rubble-fill regulations and trash recycling to land development policy and tree preservation laws.
You'll regularly find membersat government hearings and meetings, asking questions and offering opinions and observations.
"We want to make (county administrators)aware that citizens have an opinion on the issues," said Wells, who is a General Electric distributor in Riverside.
Wells says the group's top accomplishment was the successful lobbying for passage of two new county laws. One placed stricter zoning regulations on rubble dumps; another will require tree conservation and reforestation by developers and government agencies, starting next month. Both laws were approved by the County Council earlier this year.
The coalition now is focusing on legislative initiatives by the county executive which will address adequate public facilities. The bills would prohibit development where schools, roads and other municipal services are overburdened.
County Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, a former member of the Community Coalition, said the group provides a perspective that county officials sometimes don't hear when special interest groups are lobbying for government action.
"Many times they (coalition members) bring up points that bring a balance," said Pierno, president of the coalition before elected to the council in 1990. "I think in many areas it helps the council see a different viewpoint."
As an example, she noted that at a recent public hearing on theadequate public facilities bill for schools, developers argued that the bill could lead to a building moratorium in the county.
Coalition members rebutted that contention, noting that nearly 12,000 housing units are in the county government's planning pipeline, recalled Pierno.
Other projects are coalition-sponsored public forums on current issues, such as those offered this year on trash recycling; and a program monitoring the water quality of streams. Group members alsoparticipate in stream clean-up and tree-planting programs.
Bob Chance, president of the Susquehannock Environmental Center in Bel Air,which operates non-profit recycling and educational programs, credits the coalition's success to a policy of cooperation, rather than confrontation, with government administrators and others.
"They provide platforms for communication," said Chance, also an instructor at the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center near Bel Air.
"They're good watchdogs to make sure citizens are treated properly."