Robey rejects bill to control development

Provision of measure would hurt `average citizen,' he says

First veto of his term

Republican says action shows `failure to communicate'

March 14, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

With his first veto in 3 1/2 years in office, Howard County Executive James N. Robey yesterday rejected a bill regulating development - saying one provision would have hurt churches, beauty parlors and other development neophytes.

The bill, which the County Council passed by a 3-2 vote last week, dealt with "conditional uses," everything from large, 24-hour convenience stores and 200-foot cell phone towers to home day care businesses.

One part of the legislation would have required a 12-month wait before approved projects could be changed, unless the alteration requested was not "reasonably foreseeable" in the beginning. Council members want to keep developers from endlessly modifying their plans, obscuring the true scope of projects, but Robey said the requirement could have unintended side effects.

"Were this provision to become law, it troubles me greatly that it would adversely impact the average citizen," he wrote in a letter to Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray.

"Our records show that the vast majority of `conditional use' petitioners are churches, other non-profits, and small home-based businesses. ... These individuals, most of whom are novices to the development process, would become even more vulnerable under this law."

Robey said he agreed with the rest of the bill, which, among other points, would have required petitioners to meet with the community before submitting their proposals to the county. He said he would file a revised version of the legislation later in the month.

The council's two Republicans - who voted for the bill with Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat - angrily charged that the county executive was delaying the entire package because of one objection.

Western County Republican Allan H. Kittleman said Robey could have avoided the situation if he had warned the council ahead of time of his intentions. Kittleman expects a wait of at least 60 days before a new bill can be approved.

"The biggest problem I have is the failure to communicate," Kittleman said. "Ninety-five percent of that bill is not objectionable to anybody, so because of his failure in leadership, we have to go back to the drawing board. ... The citizens of Howard County have been poorly served by this veto."

The county Office of Law had questioned before the vote whether a 12-month wait was unconstitutional because a court could interpret it as interfering with religion or freedom of speech, a point that worried Robey. But Kittleman, a lawyer, said his search of zoning law turned up no relevant cases.

A committee of citizens and land-use lawyers had recommended the 12-month wait, Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon noted. He said he thought the bill would protect development novices by not penalizing people whose changes weren't "reasonably foreseeable," but Robey was concerned that the phrase was subjective.

"We want to give citizens and everybody the right to see the entire petition in the beginning," Merdon said.

Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who agreed with most of the bill's intentions but voted against it, said he thought the veto was appropriate. "I have serious difficulty with the 12-month limit," he said.

Guzzone said he was disappointed but hopeful that a compromise could salvage the idea behind that requirement.

"I don't agree, but I understand where he's coming from," he said. "We agree to disagree and move on with the things we agree about - which, quite frankly, is the vast majority of this particular piece of legislation."

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