Howard Week

February 01, 2004

Denial of zoning prompts doubts about Rouse Co.

The Rouse Co., which transformed thousands of acres of farmland into its model community of Columbia, has long been Howard County's dominant developer. But the county Zoning Board's denial this month of the Rouse Co.'s proposal to add a significant number of residences in Columbia's downtown is the second big defeat for the developer in recent years.

In 2000, the Columbia Association turned down the annexation of the company's Emerson development into Columbia, choosing not to provide the area with its traditional amenities, including a swimming pool, parks and walking paths.

The company also stands to lose money with a bill proposed by Del. Elizabeth Bobo that seeks to tax Columbia's undeveloped land an extra $500,000 to raise money for school construction.

The cases bring into question whether the board's unanimous decision is a sign that Rouse's power is ebbing.

Plan OK'd to mine in Jessup for a roads ingredient

More than a decade after it was proposed, a plan to mine an ingredient for roadways between Interstate 95 and U.S. 1 in Jessup has received crucial state approvals.

Chase Mining LLC received a surface-mining permit from Maryland Department of the Environment in December for a quarry and was given a permit to work in a wetlands area.

Nearby residents say they are concerned about environmental effects, and they intend to oppose plans to build additional operations such as concrete and asphalt plants.

Delegate opposes voluntary cap on assessments

The Columbia Association board of directors agrees with Del. Shane E. Pendergrass that the association needs a 10 percent ceiling on rising property assessments, but it does not want the state to make the association impose one.

Backsliding from its original position of supporting Pendergrass' effort to require the 10 percent cap, the board has decided it wants Pendergrass to change her legislation to allow - not force - the association to use a cap.

In a 6-4 decision Jan. 22, the board voted to tell Pendergrass that it would support her legislation - which would also make the cap retroactive - if she makes it voluntary. But the next day, Pendergrass said making the bill voluntary "guts" it, and that she is not inclined to change her legislation.

Budget error is forcing transit service reductions

Because of an unusual government budget error stretching over two years, Howard County's fast-growing local transit system will have to cut service - forcing passengers to wait longer for a ride.

Starting March 14, waiting time between buses will increase from 45 minutes to 60 minutes, and lightly used late-night and midday routes will be eliminated, according to county transportation planner Carl Balser. Also, the brown route, which connects Savage, Kings Contrivance, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown to Town Center, will be combined with the orange route, which covers Hickory Ridge and other parts of west Columbia.

Bill would make assaults on the police a felony

With violence against police on the rise in Howard County, a state delegate introduced a bill Wednesday that would make assaulting an officer a felony punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

"It's the fastest-growing crime in Howard County," said Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard County Democrat.

Quinter added that assaults against officers in the first six months of last year spiked to 67 - a 34 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2002.

Assaults against Howard officers have gradually increased - from 103 in 1999 to 110 in 2002, he said.

Lawmakers tentatively reject transfer tax option

After a rambling discussion Wednesday morning in Annapolis, Howard County's legislators tentatively voted to kill the contentious real estate transfer tax option for raising more school construction money.

However, the legislators formally approved a bill that would enlarge the county school board to seven at-large members by 2006, after rejecting an amendment to have five members elected from County Council districts and two members at large.

A surcharge on new-home sales appears to be the only option left to raise school construction money, pending next week's joint delegation meeting.

@SUBHEDSchool board in New York clashed with O'Rourke, too

Clashes with Howard County school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke over his leadership sparked his ouster from his first superintendent's position in New York, said former board members there - some of whom were so eager to get rid of him, they hid his alleged faults from interested districts.

"I feel a little bit guilty about that," said Janice Bruni, who was on the seven-member Fulton, N.Y., school board when O'Rourke was superintendent there from 1988 to 1992.

Bruni said O'Rourke could turn vindictive when crossed and targeted her with accusations similar to those he has leveled at the Howard board, which did not consult Fulton when hiring O'Rourke.

But O'Rourke and several other Fulton board members recall the situation differently. "John O'Rourke went to hell and back in Fulton," said Rhonda Campolieta, who was one of three on the seven-member Fulton board who voted to keep O'Rourke in 1992.

O'Rourke said Bruni's accusations are "absolutely absurd." And those he worked with in Pittsford, N.Y., where he went after his Fulton contract expired, agree.

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