Common theme runs through council races

District 1, 5 candidates in accord on need to control growth

Howard County

August 04, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Voters upset by the pace of development in Howard County's fastest-growing communities will probably be happy with their election choices.

All five candidates running for Howard County Council seats in Districts 1 and 5 are campaigning on growth-management platforms - a theme that helped Republicans Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of western Howard win their seats in the first place.

"It's clearly on everybody's mind," said Woodbine resident Terry Chaconas, former president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Glenelg High School. "The issue of growth management is the result of three things: overcrowded schools ... road conditions and quality of life."

Merdon and Kittleman, who hope to win second terms, say more needs to be done to deal with the impact of development.

Their opponents agree.

Lynne Bergling, a Democrat who will face Merdon in November in the District 1 race, wants the county to keep neighbors better informed about what's proposed for empty parcels and believes big developers should set aside land for new schools.

James C. Adams, a Republican pitted against Kittleman in the Sept. 10 primary for District 5, wants to slow growth and outlaw smoking in all public places.

Stephen Slocum Musselman, a Democrat who will run against the winner in western Howard, said it's "sacrilegious" that many schools have to hold classes in trailers and - in his opinion - widening Route 32 through West Friendship would only encourage "unbridled" development.

The incumbents appear to have all the advantages in the battle to be growth controllers. Bergling and Musselman are political novices; Adams won 4 percent of the vote in the 1998 Republican primary.

None of the challengers has raised more than a couple thousand dollars, compared with Kittleman's $14,000 and Merdon's $40,000.

"I'm very confident in Allan Kittleman and Chris Merdon's ultimate election victory in November," said Howard County Republican Party Chairman Louis M. Pope. "I think both of them [have] done a remarkable job in the last four years, and both of them are very strong campaigners."

Kittleman's district is the Republican stronghold of Howard County, with 16,200 registered Republican voters compared with 13,000 Democrats. Merdon's district is almost evenly split, with about 1,000 more Democrats than Republicans.

Challengers' views

But their opponents are on counting on voters ignoring party.

"I look at it as a job opening," said Bergling, 42, an Ellicott City resident since 1985. "I want people to vote for me because I represent the same kinds of things they want in their life, not because of any bigger organization."

An Internet information systems manager who is active in local zoning issues, Bergling said the tiny new subdivisions common in her district need to meld better with the surrounding homes. Neighbors ought to be notified more often as proposals for development wend their way through the process, she believes. And people developing large subdivisions should be required to sell land to the school system so incoming students will have classrooms, she said.

Musselman, 34, an attorney who moved to West Friendship in October, said plans to widen Route 32 to make it safer could spur other road expansions in the area. He'd prefer to keep the highway two lanes and add overpasses and exits to address safety concerns. He has said he is also considering a loan-forgiveness program for teachers and police officers to help them move into the county, where house prices have soared, in part because of growth controls.

"We have to recognize that Howard County still is a developing county, and government has to keep pace with the changes," Musselman said.

Adams, 60, a 24-year Mount Hebron resident who teaches part time at Catonsville Community College and reviews contracts for the state, said Howard's roads and schools are crowded. He favors delaying home development in areas where enrollment projections predict that elementary and middle schools will be full - rather than at 115 percent over capacity, the standard set by the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).

"I'm the underdog, but I don't think I'm much of an underdog," said Adams, who said he has learned campaign strategies since his first face-off against Kittleman. "I think this time around I will give him a race."

Although they defend their growth-management records in the past four years, both incumbents agree that the system still needs work.

Merdon, 31, said he's "completely convinced now" that APFO isn't effective because it is hampered by unreliable school enrollment projections. He favors replacing the ordinance with an impact fee.

"It looks like over the next 10 years, we'll need approximately $300 million in school facilities," he said. "If you can assure residents that the schools will be there ... and there's classroom space, I think their concern with the amount of growth is lessened."

Kittleman, 43, said he also has concerns about APFO, though he's not convinced that the only solution is replacement. His other priorities are to increase the amount of commercial land in the county along key highways to attract more tax-paying businesses; to work on master plans for western Howard communities that want to manage growth; and to replace the accident-prone intersections on Route 32 with ramps.

"People are going to drive through Howard County whether we fix Route 32 or not," he said.

`Room for a surprise'

Merdon and Kittleman said they're spending hours campaigning door to door because they aren't taking the election for granted. That sentiment would sit well with Wendy Fiedler, Howard County's Democratic Party chairwoman, who said she's not about to concede the races to the GOP.

"There's always an incumbent advantage," she acknowledged, "but there's always room for a surprise."

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