Harford judge dismisses proposed amendment to curb growth for year Ruling is latest round in fight over development

September 24, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A Harford County circuit judge dealt a potentially fatal blow yesterday to efforts to curb growth with his decision to strike a proposed charter amendment from the November ballot.

In a seven-page decision, Judge William O. Carr dismissed ballot question C, which would have frozen development for a year in the fast-growing county. Carr ruled that the proposed amendment did not belong in the county's charter and would "have the effect of divesting the County Council of the power to fully legislate and enact regulations relating to planning and zoning."

The ruling angered Friends of Harford, which had collected more than 13,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot.

"It's terrible how our county is being beaten up by the development industry, and no provisions are being made to fix the overcrowded schools and highways or the pain of unregulated growth," said Bob Dillon, a member of the Friends of Harford.

"This county is already almost $300 million in debt because of development, so does this mean we spend another 10 years and $300 million just to satisfy the building industry?" he asked.

The decision was the latest round in an emotional battle to stem growth in the county. The amendment sought to place a one-year moratorium on residential and commercial development, curb development in areas where schools are near capacity, and set stricter limits on building in areas where services and facilities are overburdened.

A feud was sparked last month after the County Council -- which is charged with translating proposed amendments into ballot language -- passed a version of the ballot question that Friends of Harford argued misrepresented their intent.

The group sued to have the proposal language changed, accusing the council of wording it in a way that would have guaranteed its defeat. In his ruling, Carr dismissed that suit.

Grace Hiter, a member of Friends of Harford, said the group planned to file an appeal today.

Carr's decision came the day after a Montgomery County circuit judge removed from the ballot a provision that would have allowed residents there to decide whether traffic should be slowed by speed bumps. In that case, the judge argued that elected officials should make such decisions.

In Harford County, the Chamber of Commerce and developers had countered with a suit charging that the development amendment not only violated the state constitution but also would have hurt the county economically. Opponents of the amendment underscored their position with an economic-impact study prepeared by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's administration.

That study said the initiative, if passed by voters Nov. 3, would have cost Harford County $53 million in tax revenues during the first three years, tripled water and sewer bills, forced a property tax increase, and required up to $55 million more in school spending.

George Harrison, Rehrmann's spokesman, said yesterday that the county had considered filing its own suit to block the amendment. "But we chose not to go the legal route and instead put our energies into exploring the fiscal ramifications, which we felt would have had a negative impact on the county and its residents," he said.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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