Ecker chides foes of growth, urges planning Executive warns of 'elitist' fate if county stands still

January 13, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker scolded no-growth advocates yesterday, saying he does not want Howard County to become an elitist bedroom community.

"You show me a county that is not growing and I'll show you a poor county," Mr. Ecker said in his State of the County speech to the Chamber of Commerce.

"The reason growth is so divisive is that there has not been a long-range plan" outside of Columbia, Mr. Ecker said in the 29-minute speech at a Columbia hotel. "We need to plan for areas to be developed in a certain way even though it might not happen for 20 years. We cannot defer making a decision on an area until just a few years before it is to be developed."

If the county does not plan in a comprehensive way, "we will have a county of piecemeal, haphazard zoning," Mr. Ecker said. TC "We will become an aristocratic county with strip shopping centers and unplanned development -- a county where our children will be unable to afford to live."

The county's mix of residents and businesses is out of balance, Mr. Ecker said. His goal is to have a mix of 70 percent residential and 30 percent business, commercial and industrial properties, he said.

The county is now 78 percent residential. When homes account for more than 75 percent of the assessable base, the county must increase the property tax rate, cut services or do both, he said.

Mr. Ecker called for more construction of apartments and town houses. Residential building approached the General Plan target of 2,500 units in the past year, he said, but "single family detached homes represented a disproportionate share of new units."

The building of single-family homes caused the population to grow faster than projected, Mr. Ecker said, leading to increased numbers of school children.

"If there were a higher proportion of town houses or apartments, there would be less school-age children," he said.

"It is unrealistic to think that any land zoned one house to three acres in the planned water and sewer district will remain that way," Mr. Ecker said. "It will not."

Mr. Ecker seemed to be making a veiled reference to Waverly Woods II, a golfing, commercial and residential village that developers want to build on 682 acres near Marriottsville Road and Interstate 70. The site is in the water and sewer district, but is zoned for one house per three acres.

The developer sought a change to allow a variety of land uses, including town houses and apartments. Residents opposed the change through 16 days and nights of hearings over seven months. The Zoning Board has yet to rule on the request.

No issue has polarized the county as much as the growth, Mr. Ecker said. On the one side are " 'the no-growthers -- or as they liked to be called responsible growth advocates.' " On the other are the "planned, managed, phased-growth proponents," he said.

"One of the easiest things in the world is to be against something," he said. "We have to start standing up and be for something. By pooling our knowledge, by sharing our diversity of viewpoints, and by taking the time to listen to every side of an issue, we can find workable solutions to our challenges."

Mr. Ecker urged residents to become positive thinkers and offered some acronyms to help them along. Instead of NIMBY -- Not In My Back Yard -- the county needs YIMBY -- Yes, In My Back Yard -- and HEROS -- Hear Everything, Respect Other Sides, he said.

In addition to dealing with the growth issue, Mr. Ecker told his audience of 190 people that the county must deal differently with trash disposal and recycling.

Escalating costs of trash collection and recycling must be passed on to county residents in a fair and equitable manner, he said. "The current method of paying for trash disposal from the property tax must be changed."

Mr. Ecker said the county must compromise on a way to dispose of trash. "Everyone wants you to pick up their trash, but no one wants you to put it down," he said. Regardless, shipping trash out of the county is not a viable option, he said. "We must be responsible for our own actions."

Mr. Ecker did not mention the county's mounting fiscal crisis other than to say the county must not mortgage its future with long-term debt. "To obtain true, long-term fiscal stability, we must continue to redefine the proper role of government," he said. "When a problem arises, government should be the last resort to implement a solution, not the first."

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