District 7 County Council opponents share distaste for residential growth Promises to slow development appeal to South County voters

Campaign 1998

October 28, 1998|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

It's nothing new. Around election time, politicians start making promises. They promise to give voters this and that, and then some more of this.

But in the race for the 7th District seat on the Anne Arundel County Council, two politicians are trying something new and promising to give voters nothing.

No unsightly housing developments, no shopping malls or new McDonald's or gigantic churches, no black pavement where there had been tobacco farms, and no gray concrete where horses once roamed.

In the district, which also includes Crofton but is a mostly rural enclave increasingly eyed by developers because of its location near Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis, the stances of these politicians sound sweet.

The challenger, Democrat Tim Shearer, a first-time candidate, says, "A six-month moratorium on developments is my first priority."

The incumbent, Republican John J. Klocko III, said, "There's no question that residential growth is an economic loser for Anne Arundel County."

These promises show a keen understanding of the people who live in southern Arundel, a rolling coastal plain dotted with environmentally sensitive wetlands. As candidates around the country beat voters over the head with talk about education and morality, Klocko and Shearer think they will win -- or lose -- on the development issue.

"Down here it's development, development, development," said Charles "Sonny" Tucker, a farmer from Davidsonville and one of Shearer's most vocal supporters. "And development."

The candidates are not ignoring education, but they are framing that issue in terms of how development affects education.

"Our schools can't keep up with our subdivisions," Shearer said.

In the southern part of Anne Arundel, fishing villages and beach resorts have become bedroom communities where wealthy executives dock their high-priced sailboats. Farms have been sold off piece by piece and have given way to upscale subdivisions with $300,000 homes. And traditional 19th-century houses sit in the shadows of modern, white-stucco estates and generic townhouses.

Even Shearer's strongest supporters say the Shady Side antitrust litigator is a long shot for the council seat, but they add that the current council is what is causing South County's development woes.

"I'm not naming names -- I'm not saying John Gary or John Klocko," Tucker says, "But the current administration is in bed with big developers. Take that how you want to take it."

Klocko, also an attorney, says that is absurd, telling people he is the "land-use, responsible-growth guy of the council."

The incumbent's record shows that he was a thorn in the side of the developers during last year's adoption of a countywide General Development Plan. Other council members proposed a handful of amendments to the plan; Klocko offered 52 provisions to tighten restrictions on growth, many of which passed.

In affluent, rural Davidsonville, Klocko also blocked -- at least temporarily -- a Baptist "mega-church" that would have included a 110,000-square-foot worship center with a capacity of 1,500, a family-life center with racquetball and basketball courts, an elevated jogging track, children's play areas and a parking lot for 700 cars.

Though he doesn't pretend the development plan will solve the county's growing pains, Klocko has called the plan an important first step.

"South County is the next frontier for development, and I think that by tightening up the General Development Plan, we can be much more sure of preserving our agricultural and open land," Klocko said when the plan was passed last July.

Responding recently to criticism that the plan doesn't slow growth soon enough, he said, "It just can't happen overnight."

Shearer and his supporters say immediate action is the only way to preserve the historical and agricultural heritage of South County. That is why he is campaigning on a six-month moratorium on development.

"There are adequate-facilities laws that say, 'No building if the school and highway facilities aren't capable of taking it,' " he said. "But we keep building anyway, despite the fact that some of our roads haven't evolved since the 1930s and many of our schools are over 100 percent full.

"What we need right now is some breathing space, some time to re-evaluate what we're doing and to tighten up the adequate-facilities laws."

When it comes to development, the candidates don't disagree in theory, just in practice.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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