SYKESVILLE -- Nine months of Planning Commission work appeared to go down the drain Monday night when the Town Council failed to adopt Small Town Planning Guidelines in a 3-1 vote.
The town's charter says an ordinance must have four votes to pass the six-member council. Councilman Jonathan Herman, who also is on the Planning Commission, was out sick, and Councilman Bill Hall could not attend because he had to work.
In the surprise vote -- which shocked Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. -- Councilman Walter White, an outspoken opponent of town houses, voted for the guidelines. Councilman Eugene Johnson cast the losing vote.
Council President Kenneth Clark and Councilwoman Julie Kaus voted for the guidelines.
The only Planning Commission member present was Michael Willinger, who refused to comment as he left the meeting. Helen Spinelli, a county planner who helped the commission draft the guidelines, also left without comment.
"I expect Jon and Bill [Councilmen Herman and Hall] to ask for a reconsideration motion at the next meeting," said Mr. Helt. "But I don't know if it [the guideline proposal] will have to be re-advertised before we can take a second vote."
Mr. Johnson, who lives in a town house, said he voted "his feelings" in rejecting the guidelines. "I'm just very uncomfortable with the fact that they're using the amount of rentals in town to limit the type of housing and deprive people of decent housing," he said.
Figures show that 52 percent of housing in Sykesville is rented. Mr. White said he was opposed to lower-priced town houses over single-family homes that attract a higher income resident.
"Town houses are a poor tax base," Mr. White said. "People in Hawk Ridge Farm have told me that's why they moved here -- to get away from town houses and they don't want them here."
The single-family homes being built in town range from $200,000 to $300,000.
Mr. Herman, reached yesterday by phone, said the negative vote is an opportunity to bring the issue out in the open and clarify it to all concerned. "The question is affordable housing, not so much town houses," he said. "The guidelines are written to make it possible for developers to build smaller houses on smaller lots that will be more affordable."
Last week the Planning Commission decided not to allow town houses except in planned unit developments, which would need commission, council and town Board of Appeals approval.
Mr. White said that, while he opposes town houses being built next to existing single-family homes, he would not object to town houses in the center of a new development.
The statement did not appear to mollify Mr. Johnson, however.
Mr. Johnson said if the issue comes up for another vote, he would again vote against the guidelines.
The Planning Commission began work on the Small Town Planning Guidelines last December to try to give developers ideas and flexibility in designing subdivisions that would maintain Sykesville's small-town atmosphere.