Howard Week

November 23, 2003

Housing board balks at request made by developer

A new law allowing Howard County builders to renovate older homes to fulfill their moderate-income housing obligations won't take effect until next month, but county housing board members are resisting the measure's first proposed use.

Four members refused at a Housing and Community Development Board meeting Nov. 13 to endorse a developer's request to change his plan to build four affordable units and allow him instead to renovate older ones to satisfy the legal requirement after the new law takes effect.

Howard officials refused to identify the project or the developer, saying only that it is a rental townhouse project for seniors along Route 108.

Schools' GT program seeks wider appeal

When African-American teens from nine of the county's 11 high schools systematically stood up at a recent forum and outlined a disparity of minority representation in gifted-and-talented programs, their words - though impassioned - weren't shocking to school officials.

"We have been around and around with the data for many years in terms of participation," said C. Thomas Payne, the school system's gifted-and-talented program coordinator. "For some reason, African-American students aren't performing at the high levels, and therefore they are not participating."

That reason is elusive and often debated. Some say it is racism. Others assert that some households are not adequately encouraging academics. Still others say advanced-program entrance exams are not adequate measures of ability. The only factor on which most agree is that under-representation of various groups is a problem. The No. 1 goal of the gifted-and-talented program, Payne said, is to increase participation of underrepresented populations, particularly black students.

Hearing examiner rejects Guilford church expansion

A Howard County hearing examiner has rejected a proposed 25,200-square-foot expansion of First Baptist Church of Guilford, saying it would be too large and too disruptive to the community. Examiner Thomas P. Carbo denied the church's petition for a conditional use in an order made public Monday.

The Rev. John L. Wright, pastor of the church, said he sees the decision as a racially motivated attempt to impede the predominantly black church and expressed outrage at the lengthy wait for the decision, which had been expected in June.

The church, which has proposed a 40-foot-tall, two-story structure that would add 1,000 seats and 535 parking spaces, will take its proposal to the Howard County Board of Appeals, Wright said.

Foes of high school urge zoning bill's rejection

The fight over Howard County's plans to build a high school in Marriottsville was played out before the County Council at a public hearing Monday night as neighborhood residents opposed to the school's construction urged rejection of a seemingly obscure zoning bill.

Although work has begun on the school, to ready it for an August 2005 opening, residents fighting the project are trying to block zoning variances for height and setback granted for the building.

The bill they opposed Monday night would clarify the council's right to grant those variances for public projects.

Panel votes to close rent subsidy waiting list

Amid a tough economy with jobs scarce and housing prices rising, the working poor of Howard County lost an avenue for help Tuesday night as the county Housing Commission voted to indefinitely close the swollen waiting list for federal Section 8 rent subsidies for the first time in 15 years.

The commission delayed voting, however, on a long-awaited plan to buy the 26 acres on which 230 homes sit at New Colony Village, a development on U.S. 1 in Jessup, as part of a complex proposal to help residents who have been unable to sell or refinance their homes because they were built on leased land that was never subdivided into individual lots.

School system investigates improper grade changes

Howard County school officials said Thursday that they have been investigating improper grade changes at Oakland Mills High School after it was discovered a student's marks were altered - without teacher authorization - to make him eligible to play football.

Oakland Mills forfeited seven regular-season victories and its first-round state playoff berth Nov. 13, and soon after football coach and athletic director Ken Hovet was placed on administrative leave with pay.

"You cannot have a student getting a grade change without documentation that work has been done and some attempt has to be made to involve the teacher," said Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett, who is heading the inquiry. He added that forms must be completed that involve the principal.

According to Plunkett, Principal Marshall Peterson reported that a player should have been declared academically ineligible at the start of the season. However, two of the student's grades were changed in late August, and he was allowed to join the team at practice.

PTA tells lawmakers to find new fund source

Howard County's state legislators were challenged Thursday night by more than 100 often blunt-spoken county PTA leaders and parents to approve a new funding source for school construction.

"Here's your opportunity to live up to your campaign promises," Patapsco Middle School PTA President Cindy Ardinger declared at the legislative hearing on tax bills, which focused primarily on a proposal to raise the real estate transfer tax. "If you disregard politics, you will vote to increase the transfer tax."

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