Farewells mark last session of council

Panel votes to condemn land for N. Laurel park

October 31, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In the last voting session of this four-year term, the Howard County Council approved the final land condemnation for a proposed community park in North Laurel while action was postponed on a bill that would give animal-control officers more authority to move quickly against dangerous animals.

A new County Council is to be sworn in Dec. 2, minutes before the next legislative session.

At least half of the meeting was devoted to swapping gifts, accolades and the delivery of farewell speeches to mark the departure of council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a 20-year member, and Mary C. Lorsung, who is completing her second term. Both are Columbia Democrats.

Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, announced that the council's conference room will be named for Gray.

The two Republican members got into the act, too, with a couple of gag gifts. Allan H. Kittleman of the western county presented Gray with a pair of boxing gloves to signify their partisan battles, though he noted that cordiality has always prevailed and "90 percent of the times, we agreed."

Ellicott City's Christopher J. Merdon gave Lorsung a yellow microscope to signify her reputation for closely studying the details of legislation and county policy. The gift would go to her grandchildren, she said.

"Don't be surprised at some night, at 7:30 p.m., I make a wrong turn and end up here in a meeting with you," Gray said, laughing.

Later he choked up a bit, recalling how different the county was 20 years ago, and the dreams he had then of the future.

Legislative decisions were routine by comparison.

The council voted 3-2, along party lines on the condemnation, with the two Republicans objecting.

Kittleman and Merdon said they could not support taking someone's land against their will for a park, although the lot in question is useless by itself, and county officials said the owners are demanding far more money than it is worth.

"I do believe there are cases where condemnation is necessary, but to take somebody's property for a park is wrong," Merdon said.

Despite the council's action, it likely will take at least another year for the county to gain possession of all the land needed for the park.

As a measure of how long it can take for government to act, the 25-acre North Laurel park was proposed in 1976, and, at best, residents will not see construction begin until another council is sworn in, in 2006.

A county plan to develop another, larger High Ridge Park along the Patuxent River near Interstate 95 in the same area was derailed by local opposition from residents fearful of crime, noise and environmental damage.

The community has come together to push for the smaller park near Laurel Woods Elementary, however, because it would provide play space in the crowded neighborhoods, whose residents now must go to Savage for recreation space.

Land acquisition has taken years because there were 133 narrow development lots subdivided nearly a century ago, with dozens of different owners.

The county was reluctant to go to condemnation, but finally determined there is no other way to acquire the last few lots.

The Robey administration temporarily withdrew the animal-control bill to allow more time for study by the Animal Matters Hearing Board, whose chairwoman objected Oct. 22 to the speed of the measure's consideration.

Supported by the police, the bill is intended to give county animal-control officers more authority to remove dangerous animals without having to wait weeks for a slow administrative board process before taking action.

The legislation, which was introduced after several pit bull attacks over the summer, would give animal-control officers the power to remove animals considered "potentially dangerous" when owners refuse to surrender them after an incident.

The bill also would raise fines for violations.

It would also allow citizens to lodge complaints more easily, by doing away with the requirement for a sworn affidavit.

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