Church rezoning decision may have lingering impact


Political Notebook

March 13, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

STRONG EMOTIONS over the County Council's vote to change zoning for Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church's expansion could have repercussions next year for council members, including two who are potential rivals for county executive next year, Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, and Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican.

Council chairman Guzzone, who recently proposed a tax cut for next year after supporting County Executive James N. Robey's income tax increase in 2003, pleased the county's Korean-American community with the church vote. But he is in political hot water with residents who opposed the council's vote Monday on rezoning for the St. John's Lane church.

Merdon was the only council member who opposed the church's request, backing protests of local community groups. Merdon then voted against the entire area rezoning bill, saying it differed too greatly from the slow-growth philosophy that he proclaimed in his campaign for the council.

That evoked accusations of political posturing from West Columbia Councilman Ken Ulman, a Guzzone ally. But the residents appear to see Guzzone, not Merdon, as the one playing politics, even though the vote was 4-1 and Charles C. Feaga, the other Republican, agreed with the three Democrats on the issue.

"Many of his [Merdon's] votes were simply posturing," Ulman said, predicting that "residents are smart enough" to know the difference. Merdon denied that, saying he has always supported managed growth, from his opposition to more density at Maple Lawn to stricter school-crowding standards.

A day after the vote, e-mails circulated in Ellicott City targeting Guzzone and vowing vengeance. The councilman said he got 110 e-mails from opponents of the church rezoning.

"We will work to make sure that chairman Guzzone does not become county executive," said a message sent by Patricia Casal.

Mark Restivo, another St. John's Lane activist, said: "Guzzone's track record will follow him. I ... will remember, as I'm sure the Coalition of Neighborhoods will remember. I do not want a person like Guzzone who makes decisions like that."

The coalition is a loose association of seven community groups who felt the second phase of comprehensive rezoning was poorly handled.

"They better think twice if think they're ever going to get Ellicott City votes," said Angela Beltram, a former Democratic county councilwoman who led St. John's Lane residents' effort to defeat the zoning change.

Guzzone said he had no political agenda in the church vote.

"Knowing there were already three votes [for the church] it would have been easy for me to vote against it" to escape residents' anger, Guzzone said.

Merdon said he also wasn't playing politics.

"When I was campaigning for office people told me they wanted less residential development and more scrutiny over the planning process. This bill does just the opposite," he said.

But the often tough votes on zoning changes produced a light moment between the rivals.

After hearing Merdon agree with him to retain residential zoning on land at Frederick Road and Centennial Lane, Guzzone said, "This is refreshing. I look forward to Mr. Merdon's support on my tax [reduction] package."

Merdon quickly replied, "You will get it," as both men laughed.

Paper-count advocates to hold a public forum

Despite a nearly error-free presidential election in Howard County last fall, groups pushing for a verifiable paper recount system are planning a public forum from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way.

Sponsored by TrueVote MD, the Howard County Coalition for Peace and Justice, the Maryland Green Party and other groups, the forum to support General Assembly legislation to require a voter-verified paper-audit trail in Maryland.

"Maryland has a dire need to protect the integrity of the voting system," said Michael Cornell, co-chairman of the Maryland Green Party.

Betty Nordass, Howard election administrator, said the machines' results are verifiable.

"I'm very confident that the results are verifiable," Nordass said. "We have numerous backup systems. I think at the very least we will be pursuing a study of this to accommodate everyone."

Linda Lamone, state election administrator, said: "A real huge issue for me is what do we tell our blind or visually impaired voters. Introducing the paper trail will cause these voters to have to have someone read the ballot to them."

It also will cause longer lines and cost up to $25 million more, she said.

Interviews set for April 6 on a committee vacancy

Interviews for a vacancy on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee will be conducted at 7:30 p.m. April 6 at the Bureau of Utilities, 8270 Old Montgomery Road, Ellicott City.

Applicants must be registered Democrats and should submit resumes, including political activities, before April 1 to P.O. Box 1363, Columbia 21044.

Information: 410-992-8952.

Contact the writer at 410- 715-2810 or at larry.carson@

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