Appeals court upholds ruling on Harford growth initiative 1-year development ban won't appear on ballot

September 30, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a Harford County judge's decision to strike an anti-growth initiative from the Nov. 3 ballot.

The seven-judge panel issued an order affirming Harford County Circuit Judge William O. Carr's decision last week to dismiss ballot question C, a proposed charter amendment that would have frozen development for a year in the fast-growing county.

Carr had ruled that the question was actually an attempt by Friends of Harford -- which had collected more than 13,000 signatures to take the amendment to referendum -- to legislate planning and zoning regulations.

The group appealed that decision, and yesterday's ruling effectively ended the tense battle over the ballot question, which had resulted in opposing lawsuits. The Chamber of Commerce and developers had filed suit, charging that the development amendment violated the state constitution and would have hurt the county economically.

Friends of Harford filed a suit accusing the Harford County Council -- which is charged with translating proposed amendments into ballot language -- of wording the question in a nTC way that would have guaranteed its defeat. That suit was dismissed by Carr, prompting the appeal heard yesterday.

Judge Dale R. Cathell joined some of the other judges in questioning whether the voters shouldn't simply elect representatives who would tighten controls on growth rather than amend the county's charter.

"Whatever happened to the traditional way these battles were fought between environmentalists and developers?" Cathell asked. "You kick their bums out [of elected office], and after four or six years they kick your bums out."

J. Carroll Holzer, a lawyer arguing in favor of the appeal, said it was the citizens' right to take it to referendum.

"You can petition to referendum something [elected officials] do that you don't like," Holzer said after the hearing. "This really goes to the heart of local government, and that's why it rises to the level of the charter."

Pub Date: 9/30/98

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