Televised zoning hearings to begin tonight in Howard Columbia-style village proposed in North Laurel

October 22, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Zoning Board has agreed to allow a local cable channel to televise several of the hearings that start tonight on a proposal for a controversial Columbia-style village on a 522-acre site in North Laurel.

The five-member board, which consists of the County Council, approved the request last week at the behest of the Howard County Citizens Association, which has been following the proposal since it was announced last year. It's the first time since 1994 that the board has approved televised hearings.

Robin Regner, administrative assistant to the board, said it won't be clear how many of the hearings -- expected to be weekly events for the next several months -- will be televised until Channel 15, the county's public-access cable channel, checks its schedule.

Darrel E. Drown, who chairs the board, said there was some concern among members about televising the hearings.

"I have to admit that it wasn't unanimous because we know the high jinks that can go on when someone steps in front of a camera," Drown said. "But someone requested it, and so we said, 'Sure.' "

Kathryn Mann, president of the citizens association, said she asked the board to allow cameras because the hearings are expected to drag on for months.

"People are going to have to live with this decision -- whether it's an approval or a denial -- for a long time to come, and not everyone can make it to every meeting," Mann said. "When you get cases like this that are so controversial, you'll have people lined up until they're sitting in the lobby. That's not practical."

Mann acknowledged that broadcasts put a spotlight on board members.

"We would like to believe that our elected officials vote based on what they hear and not because people are watching them," Mann said. "But at the same time, public scrutiny helps remind officials that they have to make the best decision for Howard County."

The plan under review is a proposal by the Rouse Co. to build 1,410 single-family homes, townhouses and apartments on a site straddling Interstate 95, south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

The last time the board televised zoning hearings was three years ago when Browning-Ferris Industries proposed building a solid waste trash transfer station on a 17-acre site in Elkridge. The board also allowed broadcasts during comprehensive rezoning in 1992.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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