Slow-growth proponent Taylor to seek Feaga's council seat again

February 17, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Growth-control advocate John W. Taylor says he will again try to unseat County Councilman Charles C. Feaga.

The rematch is likely to be a test of strength for the west county farming and landholding families that have supported Mr. Feaga, himself a lifelong western Ellicott City resident and farmer.

Mr. Taylor's support is expected to come from the growing number of relative newcomers who want to check the western advance of suburban growth.

Mr. Taylor, 38, is a Westinghouse project manager who has lived in Highland for 6 1/2 years.

Mr. Feaga, who squeaked by Mr. Taylor in the 1990 Republican primary 1,309 to 1,069, has not announced his candidacy, but he has continued to raise campaign funds and has shown no indication that he will seek another office.

In September, Mr. Taylor became a Democrat, saying he was contemplating a challenge to County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Mr. Taylor faults the executive's growth policies but decided that a countywide race would be "too big a bite."

"I can't quit my job and devote 16 hours a day to running countywide for executive . . . and frankly, I want a rematch with Charlie Feaga," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Feaga, he contends, has served the interests of developers, farmers and other landholders in his stands on development, rather than the majority of his constituents.

The incumbent councilman defended his record on growth, saying he favored retaining three-acre zoning in the west, along with the option of clustering development to preserve large tracts of open space and reduce the amount of infrastructure the government needs to provide.

"I think I have always cared about individual rights, sometimes maybe to the extreme, but I feel that we don't want government telling us what to do," Mr. Feaga said.

He characterized Mr. Taylor as "very, very lean and hungry for a position in government, and I'm not surprised he has decided to change his affiliation to go that way."

At the top of the list of changes Mr. Taylor wants to make in county government is giving citizens more voice in zoning decisions.

"I want to see every future comprehensive rezoning decision be put on the ballot . . . automatically, like a charter amendment," he said.

"If the government knew that 51 percent of the electorate had to agree to rezoning, I think we'd see much better rezoning."

Mr. Taylor said he has mailed more than 500 letters urging county residents to support a charter amendment that would put zoning questions on the ballot.

Peter J. Oswald, a Fulton resident who has helped organize a petition drive for the ballot initiative, said slow-growth activists from throughout the county will back Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Oswald was not involved in growth issues until he attended a meeting sponsored by Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, a group Mr. Taylor helped start. At the meeting, he learned that county planners had proposed an 820-acre "mixed-use" area for apartments, houses, shops and businesses on land designated for three-acre homesites.

"This was going to happen two miles from my house, and it requires a private group, and a person living in Highland-Clarksville, to tell me what was going on in my neighborhood," Mr. Oswald said.

Mr. Taylor "has really impressed me with his knowledge, his foresight of how zoning can affect so many factors involving our quality of life, the schools, the roads and our taxes," Mr. Oswald said.

Mr. Feaga's lack of support for the petition drive won't sit well with many voters, Mr. Oswald said.

"On Election Day in 1992, 500 people in a precinct in Charlie's district signed a petition opposing [mixed-use], and Charlie ended up voting for it."

Mr. Taylor said he also would like to see local officials placed under stricter ethical restrictions preventing them from taking gifts and campaign contributions from those they are charged with regulating.

"We have a certain level of political corruption that, while it may be technically legal, it's corruption nonetheless, and it's hurting citizens," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Feaga said that despite Mr. Taylor's warnings about rampant growth, the market has produced fewer houses than the county's growth cap for last year of 2,750 residential units.

"Probably, had we done nothing, we would not have any more homes than if we had been strict," Mr. Feaga said. "Supply and demand still seems to be the only thing that really works."

Although he is known for his vocal opposition to county growth policies, Mr. Taylor said he is not a one-issue candidate.

He said he wants to preserve the quality of life in Howard County by making sure the county's schools and police force are well provided for.

Mr. Taylor noted that when the Police Department asked the County Council for more powerful 9-mm handguns, he supported the request. He also noted that he uses handguns in target shooting but is not a member of the National Rifle Association.

"It wouldn't bother me to be a member of the NRA," he said. "I just haven't sent in an application."

As for his chances of keeping his council seat, Mr. Feaga said, "By no means do I think that it will be an easy race. I don't think any of the council races this time will be easy races."

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