Vote 'No' on Charter Amendment B

October 13, 1994

Howard County voters on Election Day will get a chance to amend the county charter so that many zoning decisions can be brought to referendum in future elections. If the amendment is approved, it will mean a major restructuring in the way the county makes zoning changes and in the balance of power within county government.

Despite the referendum's superficial appeal as a way of giving residents a direct say over land-use decisions, this is not a step that should be taken.

Charter Amendment B, the so-called zoning question, should not be approved. It is not likely to accomplish what its proponents are promising, and will likely open an enormous can of worms.

While we recognize that Howard's current zoning procedures have fostered distrust among citizens who feel ignored on such matters, amending the charter in this fashion will do more harm than good. If approved, a general land-use plan or comprehensive rezoning would have to be accomplished with a bill rather than a resolution, as is done now. When enacted by bill, major zoning decisions would be subject to a veto by the county executive or to petitioning by registered voters, which would place the matter on the ballot.

Proponents of the charter amendment are fond of pointing out that similar zoning procedures are in place in several neighboring counties and that residents have seldom petitioned a zoning decision to the ballot. Yet even if that were not an issue, the charter amendment still contains language that would transform the political landscape by shifting most of the power over zoning decisions from the County Council to the county executive.

Giving that much control to one individual was not what the authors of the county charter intended. At any rate, such a major change in government ought to wait until the county takes up charter revision, which it is slated to begin next year. Even under the current amendment, a successful petition could not be brought to ballot before 1996.

Moreover, delaying major zoning decisions for elections every two years is no way to plan a county's future. Businesses would find the process so unreliable that they will opt to locate elsewhere. And, a less-than-friendly climate toward business development will add to, not lessen, the burden on residential taxpayers.

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