Ecker Plots a Vision for Howard

January 15, 1993

In the past, we have criticized Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker for doing a poor job of expressing a substantive vision for his fast-growing jurisdiction.

We have seen -- and rued -- the way his apparent reticence has enabled the no-growth crowd in Howard to set noisy agendas for such controversies as the rezoning of property near Wheatfields and mixed-use development around Fulton. It seemed the more subdued Mr. Ecker became, the more impassioned the "no-growthers" got.

However, in a State of the County speech this week that outlined a development plan for the county as well as put the

no-growthers in their place, Mr. Ecker showed some passion of his own. What Howard County needs, he emphasized in his address, are fewer NIMBYs who block everything and more HEROS -- people who Hear Everything, Respect Other Sides.

To some this may sound corny. But at last Mr. Ecker has made clear that Howard County can no longer abide unyielding opposition to business growth. As he stated in his address, this myopic view has created an unhealthy ratio of residential properties to commercial ones in Howard -- by a 78 percent to 22 percent margin, or about 8 percentage points too wide for Mr. Ecker's liking.

Worse, a disproportionate share of new structures are detached homes occupied by young families with children. Quite a few jurisdictions -- Baltimore City and Baltimore County come to mind -- would love the "problem" of too many young, middle-class families. But the upshot for Howard County has been an expanding demand for public services at a time when public budgets are shrinking and leaders are reluctant to raise taxes.

Mr. Ecker says he wants to encourage commercial growth so some of the tax burden can be shifted from private citizens to businesses. His plan, though still sketchy, involves a farsighted approach to make room for commercial structures, housing and open space, while avoiding the piecemeal, haphazard development patterns common to suburban counties such as Howard. The proposed new county public-private economic development authority could play a key part in this plan.

Of course, another alternative is to raise property taxes to cover the costs of serving a population that grew by nearly 60 percent during the 1980s and is estimated to grow by another 22 percent by 2000. Is there any chance the no-growthers in Howard might go for that?

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