The question that spawned many more Decision will help clarify confusion over infamous Question B.

November 03, 1995

APPARENTLY, THERE will be no bold initiatives eminating from the Howard County Charter Review Commission as far as zoning is concerned. Rather than take the step that might solve the county's problems by creating an independent, appointed board to handle zoning decisions, the commission appears determined to continue stirring the pot. This week, it floated a recommendation that would simply codify actions already taken by the County Council to implement the controversial Question B charter amendment approved by voters last year.

The council sought to limit the scope of the amendment by having only large-scale, comprehensive rezoning decisions approved by the council, whose decisions are subject to voter referendum or executive veto. The bulk of the county's land-use decisions, those involving individual parcels, would continue to be approved by the zoning board. This arrangement has been criticized by proponents of Question B, so it is not surprising that they would decry the commission's recommendation.

Unfortunately, the proposed charter change could continue to fuel the notion that county officials will stop at nothing to circumvent the voters' will. That is not the case here. If the commission's recommendation is adopted, it would then appear the ballot next year, putting the issue before voters again. Only this time, voters will have a better sense of what they are voting on.

In 1994, the issues outlined by Question B were confused. Various interpretations of the amendment, espoused even by proponents, obscured its meaning. Only when the county solicitor stepped in after the election did Question B get a correct analysis.

The council, and now the commission, is simply being consistent on one principle that should not be ignored: Having the County Council decide all zoning matters would have robbed property owners of due process by subjecting all zoning decisions to popular votes. Instead, piecemeal decisions, when made by the zoning board, will get a more appropriate forum on appeal to the courts. All of this represents a good course for the commission to take. A better one, of course, would have been to bar the council from sitting as the zoning board and replacing it with an independent body.

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