Kowtowing to the No-Growth Crowd

December 28, 1992

Whatever possessed Howard County Councilman Charles Feaga to come out against a proposal for mixed-use developments, it certainly had nothing to do with what's best for the county.

By bucking County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the Republican Party standard-bearer in Howard, Mr. Feaga, who is also a Republican, has kowtowed to the no-growth advocates who have been so vocally opposed to this plan from the start.

They were out in force at a public hearing recently, spouting the same litany of objections to nearly every growth plan ever proposed.

Once again, their stated fears were traffic, crime and overcrowded schools.

Adequate public facilities legislation designed to tie growth to infrastructure improvements has not squelched their anxiety. Nor have assurances that county officials are willing to compromise over the current plan.

This time, no-growth advocates are targeting four proposed mixed-use centers -- in Fulton, North Laurel, Jessup and southern Ellicott City -- where residential and commercial development would be clustered at densities higher than currently allowed in those areas. A major goal of the centers would be to attract much-needed new business to the county. Among the lures for companies would be a range of housing within reasonable proximity to offices in these mixed-use areas.

That goal alone would be enough to win our endorsement. In opposing the mixed-use concept, Mr. Feaga is not only shortsighted about the future, he conveniently ignores recent history.

For too long, suburban growth has been allowed to occur haphazardly, without regard to the link between long commuter rides, pollution and the destruction of wetlands.

If that were not enough, the mixed-use concept has another potential benefit. Through economic development, the county could shift more of the local tax burden from residential to business taxpayers in Howard County.

Currently, businesses in Howard account for 22 percent of the county's assessable tax base. Mr. Ecker has consistently said he would like that percentage to be closer to 30 percent.

Unfortunately, the Howard County executive has done such a poor job of selling his plan to the community it may have to be revamped. The best evidence of this failure is that Mr. Ecker hasn't been able to sell the mixed-use development notion even to his fellow Republican, Mr. Feaga.

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