Vernon-come-lately? Growth control: Howard Councilman Gray's proposal colored by possible candidacy.

September 10, 1997

COUNCILMAN C. Vernon Gray may have a difficult time explaining why he waited until the political preseason to step to the forefront of the growth-control debate in Howard County.

Although the Democratic councilman, to his credit, proposed legislation earlier this year to require fiscal impact studies for mixed-use centers, he has mostly remained in the background on the contentious issue of growth control.

Now he is advocating bold growth restrictions on the eve of the 1998 race for county executive, which he may decide to enter.

If politics are behind his proposal, he could be making a gross miscalculation. While growth is a major concern for residents in a suburb where man and machine build homes at a swift pace, Howard's political landscape is strewn with the failed candidacies of slow-growthers past.

Perhaps the county's best-known and most vociferous advocate of slow growth, Democrat Susan Gray (no relation to Mr. Gray) was trounced by Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker when she tried to unseat him three years ago. Mr. Ecker, for his part, won office in 1990 when he received a surge of campaign money from developers and other business interests who were furious at then-County Executive Elizabeth Bobo. She also had imposed strict controls on development.

Mr. Gray says his decision to propose legislation to slow the rate of residential growth has to do with the county's fiscal condition, not his political fortunes.

He wants to limit growth to 2,000 housing units a year, arguing that residential development makes it difficult for the county to pay for schools and roads. One could argue that the 2,000 households must have some benefit for the local economy as well, supplying consumers, employees, even some employers. But the argument over growth's costs versus benefits isn't new; what's new is Mr. Gray placing himself in the middle of this minefield.

Mr. Gray's position also puts him in stark contrast with fellow Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who has already announced his Republican candidacy for county executive. A farmer, Mr. Feaga has yet to meet a slow-growth measure he likes. He isn't new to this issue, but Mr. Gray's timing is puzzling, indeed.

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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