Proposal to curb growth in Harford heads for court Supporters say wording makes defeat likely

September 22, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The latest battle over development in fast-growing Harford County lands in court today, with both sides raising objections to a proposed charter amendment that would freeze development for one year.

The proposal -- Question C on the November ballot -- is the subject of competing lawsuits, one by supporters who had it placed on the ballot and the other by development and business interests who say it would hurt the county.

The Friends of Harford, which supports the development curb, has sued to have the proposal's language changed, accusing the County Council of wording it in a way that virtually guarantees its defeat.

On the other side, the Harford County Chamber of Commerce has joined a group of developers in a suit charging that the amendment violates the state constitution, misuses the charter amendment process and would hurt the county economically.

A hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. today before Harford County Circuit Judge William O. Carr. He will be asked at the hearing to modify the language or strike the measure from the ballot.

The battle illustrates the intense emotion surrounding growth in Harford, the hottest political issue during campaigning for last week's primary.

Supporters of the measure are hoping to modify its language by removing the word "taxes," which they fear will scare voters, but they object to efforts by development interests to have it stripped from the ballot.

"We expected this," said Grace Hiter, a member of Friends of Harford who collected more than 13,000 petition signatures. "We knew that the developers would try to stop this."

In addition to a one-year moratorium on commercial and residential development, the measure would restrict development in areas where schools are near capacity and would impose tougher limits in areas where services and facilities are under pressure.

Supporters say the amendment would slow growth in the county by preventing the issuance of permits and by forcing developers to pay for facilities such as schools and roads in areas where they want to build.

Opponents say it would cost the county jobs. They point to an economic impact study by the county government that warns of $53 million in lost revenues in the first three years if the amendment is passed, along with higher taxes and cuts in services.

"It would cripple the economy in this county for at least a year," said James A. Cameron, president and chief executive officer of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce. "It also sends a very strong message to industry which says, 'You are not wanted here.' "

Proponents say the economic impact study prepared by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's administration crosses the line into partisan politics and is designed to torpedo the amendment.

"I think it's kind of odd that a government entity would be spending public money to oppose a question placed on the ballot by the people," said Christopher Cook, a member of Friends of Harford. "Where's their information on what development is already costing the county?"

George Harrison, Rehrmann's spokesman, said the county executive authorized the study because she has a "fiduciary responsibility" to the citizens.

Charles Kearney, attorney for the County Council, declined to comment on the Friends of Harford's suit, saying the council will file a legal response.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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