Harford Co. officials try to explain defeat of 'quick-take' plan Public's fear of lessened property rights is cited as possible key reason

November 07, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A day after Harford County residents overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have let the county condemn property more quickly, officials cited fear of diminished property rights as a possible reason for its defeat.

The state constitutional amendment -- known as Question 6 on the ballot -- was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin in Harford County, with 55 percent of voters statewide also rejecting the proposal. It was the only one of six state constitutional amendments defeated Tuesday.

Question 6 would have let the County Council adopt what is called a "quick-take" method, giving it the power to condemn unimproved property immediately needed for rights of way for road, storm drain, sewer and water projects, and negotiate settlements with property owners later.

Baltimore City, Baltimore County and the State Highway Administration already have such authority.

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann first proposed the amendment in 1991. It passed the legislature earlier this year, said Bob Hockaday, Harford County's director of governmental and community relations.

County officials had hoped the amendment would speed plans such as the Whitehead-Cardiff sewer project, which would construct a public sewerage system in a rural area, Hockaday said.

"With other past projects to obtain rights of way, we have observed how these projects can be held up by one person, and that results in a substantial cost to the taxpayers," Hockaday said. "We pushed for Question 6 to save taxpayers money."

But the measure needed the approval of both county and state voters to succeed -- something Councilman Barry Glassman said he had thought unlikely because of residents' unease about giving government such power.

"Private property rights are probably one of the issues closest to people," said Glassman, a Republican who represents the northern portion of the county. "I think the trend, statewide, countywide and even nationally, is that people are becoming more distrustful of the government coming in and taking things."

Supporters also attributed the measure's defeat to lack of public understanding about its provisions. Hockaday cited the amendment's language, which said the council would have the right "to immediately take certain property for right of ways."

"We thought the language was a significant problem because it didn't explain it fully," said Hockaday. "Many people were unaware that there is already a mechanism for condemning property in the county, and that the state of Maryland already has this authority."

Harford state Sen. David R. Craig, a Republican, said voters statewide might have rejected the measure because of concern that their home counties would seek similar authority.

"People in other jurisdictions probably thought, 'Well, if Harford County gets this permission this year, then my county may ask for it next year,' " Craig said.

John Kane, a Bel Air lawyer who specializes in real estate and inheritance law, said he believed voters were wary of anything that would promote more development in a county of 204,000 where growth has exploded in recent years.

"It just may be that people in the county have seen enough new roads to become nervous when the government has a policy that allows quick-take," Kane said.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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