A controversial proposal to build a large animal hospital in western Howard County appears all but dead after a two-hour County Council work session last night, but the veterinarian who wants to build it has not given up, he said.
Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, the western county Republican who represents Glenwood, where the facility would be built, said he does not approve of building the hospital on land preserved as open space by clustering houses on one part of a parcel. "It is not appropriate," he said, adding that he will not try to amend a pending zoning bill to allow the hospital.
With Kittleman against it, east Columbia Democrat C. Vernon Gray said he, too, would withhold support, though he was initially friendly to the idea. "There's nothing there to support," he said.
That discouraged veterinarian Stuart Scheinberg and his lawyer, Fred Lauer, who have been lobbying strongly for the project - even attending Gray's $50-a-ticket party last week.
They are not giving up, they said after last night's session. "I'm disappointed," Scheinberg said, adding that he hopes to speak to Kittleman again about it. "It's not over," Lauer said.
The work session was held to discuss several bills up for a vote at the Nov. 5 meeting - expanded farm-related business uses for preservation land, the duties of the new Board of Appeals hearing examiner and the charts that determine which elementary and middle school districts will be closed to development in 2004. Under Howard law, schools projected to be at 115 percent or more of their rated capacity in three years trigger development limits near them for that year.
Kittleman proposed several amendments to the zoning bill that would restrict the uses of open rural land preserved from development - and decrease the number of homes or even recreational uses of the land. "If you allow a school, tennis courts or a golf course, I don't see that as preserved property," he said. "And if other uses are allowed, how can the county tell Dr. Scheinberg that an animal hospital is taboo?"
Kittleman's ideas are the fulfillment of campaign promises intended to protect homeowners worried about congestion in the rural west, he said, but they seemed to create an unusual alliance between farmers and more urban eastern County Council members.
"He's not looking out for the interests of the farmers," said Glenelg farm owner Martha Clark, who attended the meeting.
"It discourages use of the density-exchange option," said council member Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat. She was referring to the program that allows landowners to preserve some land by moving the allowed housing to other parcels. "It does lower the value of a farm," Gray said.
Residents of the Riggs Meadows community in Glenwood showed up in force for the council's public hearing Oct. 15 to protest Scheinberg's attempts to win approval for the hospital. Scheinberg and Lauer argued that the animal hospital is badly needed and is a perfect use of rural land.
But zoning attorney Thomas Meachum, who lives in the community, said his neighbors consider the hospital "a commercial operation," whose lights, truck traffic and 10,000- to 12,000- square-foot size should not be allowed.
Three days after testifying before the council, Lauer and Scheinberg attended Gray's party at Laurel Park racetrack. The party was held to celebrate Gray's five-term career on the County Council and to prepare for a possible state Senate run next year. Gray has not registered a campaign committee with state elections officials, so he plans no disclosure of the event's funding in November, when the next round of state-required campaign finance reports are due.
Questioned at the event by a reporter, Lauer said there was no connection between his and Scheinberg's attendance at the affair, which Gray insisted was not a political fund-raiser, and their efforts to get council approval for regulatory changes that would permit the animal hospital.
"We were sent tickets a long time ago. I've been a friend of Councilman Gray's for years. That's a ridiculous question," Lauer said. Gray, too, said his vote will not be influenced by people who bought tickets to his party. "Those things happen," Gray said.
The county proposed a series of changes in zoning regulations to allow farmers more flexibility in using rural land as a way of preserving more forms of agri-business.
That idea also drew residents of a 45-home subdivision in Fulton, near Pleasant View Drive, who testified against allowing a nearby landowner to start a pick-your-own farm operation that they said would draw too much traffic to their residential streets. Kittleman proposed an amendment to help them by requiring pick-your-own farms to front on arterial highways.