No growth in Howard?

January 11, 1993

Some recent headlines:

* The land swap arranged by Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker to preserve an old cemetery is on the rocks because he is having trouble finding a parcel he can deed to a developer without grumblings from people who don't want any houses built next to them.

* Some County Council members are beginning to sound retreat on the county executive's plan to stimulate business with "mixed-use zones," after residents howled that they don't want development near their communities.

* The council, sitting as the zoning board, wrapped up testimony in a long controversy over a huge development, Waverly Woods II, that opponents say will essentially destroy the western part of Howard County.

The details of the opponents' arguments differ, but the theme they share is this: When we moved to Howard, we may have altered the county, but we don't want anyone else messing up paradise.

Nowhere in the Baltimore region is the anger over development more intense than in Howard. The source of the frustration may be two-fold.

First, local government has not done a good job of making residents feel they are part of land-use policy-making. The fact that the County Council sits as the zoning board also puts it in the awkward position of having to be subjective representatives of constituents on the one hand and objective custodians of the land on the other.

Second, more recent transplants, particularly people who moved from congested parts of the Washington area, seem to have a misconception about Howard County. Howard ceased being "the country" a quarter-century ago when James Rouse planted a city rather than a crop in a field. That metamorphosis accelerated when Baltimore and Washington boomed, with Howard in between.

Because of the same happy accident of geography that attracted them in the first place, Howard County residents cannot expect the fields and woodlands adjoining their properties to remain unchanged forever. That's not to say the land should be denuded. Obviously, growth should be well planned, and environmental protections should be imposed and enforced.

But municipal woes such as inadequate school funding are as much a result of the building ban that shut the spigot for capital in the recessionary '90s as they are a result of the torrent of pupils that poured into Howard in the prosperous '80s.

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