To ``B'' continued Howard County: Changes to weaken Question B might have weakened public trust.

June 07, 1996

EVEN THE people who opposed the passage of Question B in Howard County 19 months ago -- and we were among them -- can see the logic in the straw vote the County Council took this week not to weaken the law.

Question B might have made a bad law, but "big brother" government would be a worse "B." Had the council voted to weaken this law after voters created it by referendum, the county might have won the battle but lost the war in terms of public trust.

Question B was a very emotional issue. It allowed citizens the right to challenge county land-use decisions of the zoning board through referendum.

We disagreed then, and now, that complex issues of long-term land use are well-suited to be judged this way. Moreover, voters already had such power: If they didn't like the direction their county was headed in terms of development, they could vote out their representatives empowered to make land-use decisions. Voters have done it before. Other respected civic groups also feared Question B's impact on economic development.

But those arguments didn't win the day back in November 1994, when 61 percent of the voters approved it.

Whatever side one took on the question, however, the sight was unseemly of government trying to disable Question B's impact by excluding from it the category of "floating zones" or requiring more signatures to challenge decisions on the ballot. It was as if after having lost the race, county government was going to lay tacks in the opposition's garage.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga argued that not to exclude floating zones would violate individuals' property rights. Perhaps, but that's probably best answered by the courts. Mr. Feaga chastised fellow Republican Dennis R. Schrader for "chickening out" on the issue. But Mr. Schrader and Democrat Mary C. Lorsung were correct to vote to block the exemption.

These technical battles are important to far fewer Howard countians than the number who voted for Question B in the first place due to their concerns about growth. The council's vote this week probably doesn't change much in practice. Had it voted otherwise, though, the effect might been another fractious debate.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

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