Passion from Ecker HOWARD COUNTY

January 15, 1993

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

We've seen -- and rued -- the way his apparent reticence has enabled the no-growth crowd 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-growth ers" got.

However, in a State of the County speech 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 the county needs, he emphasized this week, are fewer NIMBYs who block everything and more HEROS -- people who Hear Everything, Respect Other Sides.

So it sounds corny. But at last Mr. Ecker made clear that the county can no longer abide unyielding opposition to business growth. As he stated, this myopic view has created an unhealthy ratio of residential properties to commercial ones in the county -- by a 78 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 has been an expanding demand for public services at a time when public budgets are shrinking.

Mr. Ecker says he wants to encourage more commercial growth so that some of the tax burden can be shifted from private citizens to businesses. His plan, though still sketchy, involves a farsighted approach that would 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. Any chance the no-growthers might go for that?

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