Ever busy, Waff shoulders a new role on appeals panel

Resident of Savage was land-use watchdog

June 22, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

William Waff glances at his watch.

Keeping track of time has become particularly important since his schedule has moved from being "extremely busy" to downright chaotic.

The Howard County Council appointed Waff, 58, who is president of the Savage Community Association, to the five-member Board of Appeals last month.

Established in 1968, the board is responsible for ruling on, among other things, administrative appeals, special exceptions and variances of the zoning code.

"I think it's a great opportunity, but I was kind of reluctant because of the amount of hours," Waff said.

That was before County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a southern Howard Democrat, convinced him that he would be the best person for the job.

"He sort of twisted my arm," Waff joked. "But he really wanted somebody to do it."

Waff's new position as a member of the Board of Appeals is a sharp contrast to his 20 years of grass-roots activism in Howard County.

As a member of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee (SHLUC) -- an umbrella organization of a dozen community groups that monitor zoning issues -- Waff spent years battling some of the most well-financed developers in the county, including the Rouse Co., which has plans to construct 1,200 homes for a village-style, mixed-used community in North Laurel.

To avoid a conflict of interest, he has resigned as a member of SHLUC, but his passion for land-use issues thrives.

"Early on, zoning issues became interesting to me," Waff said. "I became interested in whether proper procedures were being followed and trying to make sure that all of the pieces fit together. Will roads be there when development occurs?"

Big issues

Waff joins the Board of Appeals at a time when members have been increasingly at odds over expansion plans. In March, the board dismissed the First Baptist Church of Guilford's plan to add a 2,000-seat sanctuary, a 636-space parking lot and a 34,000-square-foot community center after giving the church the go-ahead in September.

"It sounds to me that different people had different ideas, and whatever the situation was, they didn't seem to get along -- at least that's the way it appears," Waff said, pledging to keep the issues in focus and not let politics interfere.

"My goal is to try to listen to everyone and give them respect."

That's precisely what his allies say he'll do.

"He's very level-headed, a good listener and I am thrilled that he's on the Board of Appeals," said Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Columbia Democrat. "He taught me about land use in Howard County."

Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association, echoed Pendergrass' sentiments.

"I have had the pleasure of working with Bill on a number of issues affecting southeastern Howard County. I can't think of a more honest, hard-working and dedicated person to fill this important position," Flynn said. "Our community, as well as the rest of Howard County, will be well served by his appointment."

Pride in Savage

When James N. Robey was elected county executive, Waff was hand-picked to be part of his transition team.

But what Waff enjoys most is serving the community of Savage, where he has lived with his wife, Ellen, for the past 20 years. During the past 10 years, he has served intermittently as president of the Savage Community Association -- a position he doesn't plan to relinquish.

"Savage is a great place to live," he said. "But at one time, it was considered to be on the other side of town. The image has changed, and that's good."

With the recent openings of CarMax and the Weis Supermarket on U.S. 1 and the influx of visitors who pass through to tour the Savage Mill, Waff is optimistic that the town of 2,850 people will become a focal point in Howard County.

Despite his rigorous work schedule, Waff, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard, finds time to help his wife manage their farm, which is tucked away on a hill on Baltimore Street. He is also looking for a full-time job in the county as an engineer.

"Things are going well," he said, glancing at his watch again. "Staying involved gives me something to do -- it keeps me active."

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