Silence in Howard

January 21, 1993

Like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, Chuck Ecker's recent speech about growth in Howard County was a broad oak, but even he was left wondering afterward whether anyone heard it fall.

For all the passion, even spluttering anger, that the debate over land-use planning has generated in Baltimore's richest suburban jurisdiction, the county executive admitted to being a bit surprised at the silence that trailed his State of the County address.

Outside of a few favorable responses, Mr. Ecker said he had received no letters or telephone calls about the speech in the days afterward.

In his address before the county's Chamber of Commerce, the Howard chief executive chided a faction of the populace for being negative and selfish regarding Howard's long-range planning. Many residents feel existing zoning will accommodate enough growth in the coming years; the Ecker administration and some others, including this newspaper, feel the county must do more to plan for and encourage business development and affordable housing.

The significance of last week's State of the County speech, even more than its substance, was its source. With a folksy, country manner, Chuck (not Charles) Ecker isn't known for unleashed rhetoric. Yet, here was a cocker spaniel displaying a pit bull's teeth.

Like many administrators-turned-office-holders, Mr. Ecker bills himself as a non-political politician; he never illustrated it more convincingly than with his willingness to bare his convictions about so sensitive an issue as land-use planning in the county. An observer would have to look no farther than the County Council to find politicians who'd rather duck behind the trenches than ride into the middle of this firefight.

Even residents inclined to disagree with the county executive's stance should try to step back and consider his argument. Or, opponents can summarily dismiss Mr. Ecker as shilling for fat-cat builders, and they'll continue to be dismissed as "no-growthers" and this debate will go nowhere. Howard County should never forget that there is a peculiar dilemma that other jurisdictions wish they had to cope with -- how not to attract additional stable, working families.

Because there is no one better positioned to deliver the long view, we are sure that Mr. Ecker's bold words will not be his last on what will continue to be the dominant concern in Howard County.

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