Growth bill to become law

Despite concerns, Robey won't exercise veto

`I did a lot of agonizing over it'

Measure extends Columbia planning district line

Howard County

August 03, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

County Executive James N. Robey says he will not sign a County Council-approved bill moving a sensitive planning boundary - but he won't veto the measure either.

His decision means that an amended version of the bill sponsored by east Columbia County Councilman David A. Rakes will become law, but without the executive's endorsement.

"I did a lot of agonizing over it. It was something that troubled me a great deal," Robey said, adding he was glad the council amended the bill, diminishing its effect.

At issue is whether the bill, which would have moved the boundary south from Harriet Tubman Road in the Columbia planning district to the Middle Patuxent River in the southeastern district, sets a precedent. The amended bill, approved by the council July 23, moves the line a shorter distance, to Route 32, which means developers planning a 140-townhouse/office complex at Cedar Lane and Route 32 can start building sooner.

Howard County's growth-control laws allow fixed numbers of new homes each year, divided among the county's five planning districts. There are more than 400 of these housing allocations available in Columbia, but none in the southeast, where two big, mixed-use developments, Maple Lawn Farms and Emerson, are under way.

The amended bill passed, 3-2, on a party-line vote with Democrats arguing that it did not set a precedent. Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, called the bill "sort of an aberration," and said he would support no other, similar changes.

Western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman and Ellicott City's Christopher J. Merdon opposed the bill, with Kittleman arguing that it does set a precedent, benefits one or two developers and is inappropriate.

Robey called the bill "bad policy" and a "dangerous precedent," but said he didn't think it was bad enough to veto. Robey denied allowing the bill to become law for political reasons, though Rakes' vote is crucial in allowing the three council Democrats to prevail in the five-member body.

The lack of a signature is to "send a message to the council members who supported it," Robey said.

Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director, said, "There really wasn't a particularly strong answer as to why the boundary was Harriet Tubman Lane. Route 32 is the stronger visual border," and matches a census district line.

But Rouse Co. Vice President Dennis Miller opposed any change, saying after the vote that it "sets an unfortunate precedent, further reducing predictability" in the county's growth- control laws.

"I was amazed that the Rouse Co. would weigh in," Rakes said yesterday. "The Rouse Co. [is] concerned about their projects."

"I feel confident that what I did was the right thing," Rakes added, even though moving the line to Route 32 does not meet his originally stated goal - helping the Pentecostal Church of God sell its 28-acre site south of the highway for development.

Rakes said he wants the church to move its headquarters to Oakland Mills, and perhaps begin a community youth program there. The first version of the bill would have included the church property in the Columbia planning district, speeding development. Church officials could then have used the proceeds from the land sale to build or lease a new headquarters.

But the amended version passed by the council didn't move the line far enough south to include the church's land.

Community meetings to discuss development plans for the Church of God property and the Cedar Lane project are scheduled for later this month.

The meeting on the church's proposal to build 21 homes at its Long View Road property is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 11 at the church's community center there.

The Cedar Lane development will be discussed at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 at Hawthorn Center, 6175 Sunny Spring Road.

Without Robey's signature, the bill becomes enacted after 10 days. It becomes law 60 days after that.

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