Annapolis lawyer named Howard zoning counsel

Hired to help officials, public in land-use cases

October 17, 2001|By Larry Carson | By Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

More than a year after voting to create the job, the Howard County Council has hired an Annapolis lawyer to be zoning counsel.

Eileen E. Powers, 46, was chosen from among 19 applicants for Howard's new part-time position - designed to help keep the public and county officials better informed in land-use cases.

The zoning counsel job, which was born from a desire to help community groups navigate the arcane technicalities of land-use cases, is expected to represent a neutral position between citizens and developers. County Council members have shied away from making the zoning counsel an independent advocate for residents.

The two major duties are to "be available to any citizen or group of citizens to explain the process of how to participate, and in rezoning cases to present technical legal arguments as to whether there is evidence to show change or mistake," said County Council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat.

"I want this person to be an educator and a resource for the public to come to" and someone who will "defend current zoning," western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman said.

Harry Brodie, president of Greater Beaufort Park Community Association in the southeastern county, said he supported the creation of the part-time post and is happy someone has been hired to fill it. He said that "an advocate for community groups would have been better, but this is an advance."

Baltimore County has had an independent public advocate - the people's counsel - for 25 years. The people's counsel is charged with defending current zoning and has the power to appeal rezoning and special exception requests. The position is independent of county government.

In Howard, Powers will work for the County Council and may not initiate appeals on her own. The $67.50-per-hour job pays up to $36,000 a year.

Powers said she will work mainly from her Annapolis law office and from her Anne Arundel County home, and will attend evening hearings and meetings with community groups in Howard County.

"Obviously, the position's going to need some fleshing out," she said, noting that she is experienced in zoning cases in Anne Arundel. "I have a real interest in zoning, and I'm looking forward to working with the council and taking this position and turning it into reality."

Powers will maintain her private practice in Anne Arundel County, she said.

She holds a master's degree in social work from Catholic University and graduated from George Washington University law school in 1982. She worked for Prince George's and Anne Arundel County governments before spending five years as a Maryland assistant attorney general for the Department of Natural Resources. She is affiliated with the Annapolis law firm of Blumenthal, Delavan and Williams.

"I was impressed by her," Kittleman said. "I think she would be a good person to meet with citizens on issues." Powers is good with people, he said, and because she is from Annapolis, "she's somebody who doesn't have close ties to any group in Howard County."

Guzzone said several good candidates applied for the job. "I thought [Powers'] best quality was that she was very clear, very articulate and appeared to me to be able to communicate both as a lawyer with lawyers and, most importantly, with citizens. She could bridge those communications issues."

County Council secretary Sheila Tolliver said that anyone wanting to speak with Powers should call the council offices at 410-313-2001.

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