EASTON -- Nearly four years into a struggle over development in and around the Eastern Shore's colonial capital, Talbot County voters chose a slate of local candidates Tuesday that slow-growth advocates say is certain to rein in developers.
In addition to voting to put Democrats Hilary B. Spence, Thomas G. Duncan, Hope R. Harrington, Philip Carey Foster and Republican Peter A. Carroll on the five-member County Council, a coalition of environmentalists and community activists easily won passage of two charter amendments designed to put the clamps on "big box" developments such as Home Depot and Lowe's, retailers that have staked out locations near the county seat.
Talbot voters appear to have rejected a write-in campaign waged by Levin F. "Buddy" Harrison IV, the current council president who was defeated in the Sept. 14 primary. Although elections officials have not finished a hand count of ballots and results have not been certified, Harrison said yesterday that he holds out little hope of matching the totals of the five top vote-getters.
Leaders on both sides of the development issue say they're looking to put a bruising campaign -- that many say was uncharacteristically rancorous for slow-paced Talbot County -- behind them.
"This council has been pro-development or at least sympathetic to development for the last four years -- or forever, really," said incumbent Foster, who was endorsed by the coalition Citizens for Sound Growth. "The challenge for us now is to put aside the emotions of the day and strike a balance, define what's reasonable in terms of growth."
Defining what is acceptable to Talbot residents, many of whom were drawn to the area's waterfront homes and maritime villages, is just what worries developers like Tom Cohee, who lost his bid for a council seat. He and other business leaders say Talbot has earned a reputation as a difficult place to do business.
"As developers, we've been demonized, and we were forced to go against a well-organized political machine," said Cohee, a St. Michaels native. "Talbot has had a mob-rule reputation and this just makes it worse. I just can't believe this is going to be good for the county."
Slow-growth advocates, who chafed at charges that they oppose all development in Talbot, say Tuesday's result put to rest the notion that a majority of middle- and working-class residents have been overshadowed by wealthy retired volunteers who backed the coalition's slate.
"They kept talking about the `silent majority,' but they either weren't silent or they aren't a majority," said Dirck Bartlett, who heads Citizens for Sound Growth. "People don't move to Talbot for the shopping opportunities. Whether you're rich or poor, you move here for the quality of life."
Business leaders at Progress Talbot, a year-old advocacy group, are moving to mend fences, sending out a letter of congratulations to council winners. Many are hopeful for a full hearing on their projects.
"We're already concerned about what you could call an extremist view of development," said Edwin Miller, a commercial real estate broker. "We're hoping that once people get into office, they'll be open to a broader view, rather than representing a very narrow view."