Growth passes crime as top issue in council race

October 23, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

*TC After years of pummeling county officials over the way that houses and lawns are replacing the county's farms and forests, Democrat John W. Taylor will find out Nov. 8 just how important growth is to voters in his west county district.

So, too, will Charles C. Feaga, the two-term incumbent Republican County Councilman Mr. Taylor aims to replace.

Mr. Feaga, 62, is a farmer and lifelong county resident. A decade ago, when Democratic officeholders outnumbered Republicans in county politics, he was the Republican Party's standard-bearer.

Now Mr. Feaga's party, after winning big in local and state legislative elections in 1990, faces a paradox in his councilmanic district, which includes west county and western Ellicott City: His is the only district inwhich Republican voters outnumber Democrats, but he still may lose his seat to the Democratic challenger, Mr. Taylor.

Growth is the key to that paradox. And that's not been lost on council candidates in other districts, where there also is much anger over development issues.

"Crime was the biggest issue in this county, and now all of a sudden it's become growth. I don't know why," said county appeals board Chairman George L. Layman, a Democrat challenging the five-member council's other Republican, District 1 incumbent Darrel E. Drown.

But the strength of the growth issue is painfully obvious to the three council incumbents seeking re-election -- as well as to County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

After an economic downturn that stifled development and chilled slow-growth rhetoric, the county's growth-control movement has been revitalized by debate over county rezoning in 1993 and the surprise Democratic nomination for county executive of Susan Gray, a go-slow advocate.

The rezoning allows small Columbia-style villages, with apartments, houses and most kinds of businesses in four of the county's five council districts, much to the dismay of the growth-control movement.

* Council District 5, Democrat Taylor vs. Republican Feaga:

Mr. Taylor's threat to Mr. Feaga developed long before the comprehensive rezoning or the September primary.

In the four years since Mr. Taylor ran as a Republican against Mr. Feaga and lost the primary by 240 votes, he's gained a larger constituency.

His supporters tend to have moved over the past decade from more urbanized areas near Washington and Baltimore to western Howard -- only to find the county's bucolic countryside increasingly dotted with more houses, cars and construction equipment.

"There are a lot of angry people out there," concedes Mr. Feaga. But he is loath to counterattack.

He continued last week to speak to constituents in his folksy, unguarded manner about the rights of property owners.

"You never govern by majority on individual rights," Mr. Feaga said at a candidates forum to explain his opposition to a county charter change referendum that would give residents the power to put zoning changes to a popular vote. Mr. Taylor supports the charter change.

At the same forums, Mr. Taylor levels charges about Mr. Feaga's financial and family ties to developers who've won major zoning decisions.

"I don't think everybody has a God-given right to high-density zoning," Mr. Taylor said in an interview.

Land set aside

But Mr. Feaga said that even with higher density housing, the western county will still be protected from rampant development. "We have set aside some humongous parcels of land in perpetuity," he said.

Mr. Taylor also points to growth as a source of the county's overcrowded schools. But Mr. Feaga notes that the schools have received an increasing share of the county's budget the past four years.

Were Mr. Feaga in a position to set the campaign agenda, he likely would focus on solving the county's trash problem.

He says the county needs to build a power-generating trash incinerator to protect the health of its water supply. But Mr. Taylor believes that the county instead should study new technologies.

* Council District 1, Republican Drown vs. Democrat Layman:

In District 1, made up of eastern Ellicott City and Elkridge, incumbent Darrel Drown has focused on bigger schools and better roads. He says the County Council will have to raise money for these concerns -- but not by raising taxes.

"We can't be adding new programs, we can't be spending money on special interests. We have to build the classrooms," Mr. Drown said.

But Mr. Layman has attacked Mr. Drown for voting to raise taxes in 1991, to allow Wal-Mart to build a store in the district and for making a half-hearted attempt to stop a campaign contributor from building a waste-transfer station in Elkridge.

Route 100 project

Mr. Drown also wants to push ahead with the long-delayed Route 100 project that would take pressure off Route 103 and other roads.

But Mr. Layman criticizes the way the project's been handled. Neighbors have been rebuffed in their efforts to get sound barriers along the road, he says, while developers have cut deals with officials for better access to their property.

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