Housing plan killed in 3-2 tally

Rakes votes with GOP against more affordable homes in the east

Decision reverses stance taken in June

July 29, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

County Councilman David A. Rakes provided a key vote at a County Council meeting late yesterday that killed a plan to allow more affordable housing in eastern Howard County.

Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, voted with Republicans Charles C. Feaga and Christopher J. Merdon in a 3-2 vote that defeated a Robey administration plan to remove 100 housing allocations from the western county and transfer them to the east to bolster efforts to provide moderate income homes.

In voting with the Republicans, Rakes reversed his position in June when he voted to approve the concept of moving the allocations, which regulate how many new homes builders may construct in each of five planning districts covering the entire county.

Despite yesterday's vote, the council finally approved a housing allocation chart and a school enrollment chart that together control development planned for 2008.

Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, was upset by Rakes' switch, and he said he believes Rakes didn't understand the legislation, a charge that Rakes denied.

"Dave does not understand the legislation. Go ask him to explain it. It's a shame. His constituents should be embarrassed for him," Ulman said.

As he voted, Rakes appeared to question affordable housing in the current overheated housing market.

"Affordable housing. I'm not sure where that is, unless it's in another county," Rakes said.

His face reddening, Ulman joked, "This is all one funny experiment up here in governing."

Merdon opposed reducing the western housing allocations from 250 units a year to 150 because he said it is "piecemeal zoning." The county should wait until fall, he said, when County Executive James N. Robey is to submit a more comprehensive plan for slowing development of farmland.

"The council should not be amending the allocation chart until we amend the General Plan," Merdon said. "We're putting the cart before the horse."

But council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, noted the council approved the concept in the June bill, so it wasn't doing anything unexpected.

Merdon, like other council members, has said he supports the concept of slowing development in the western county and adding more affordable housing in the east, but not the specifics or timing of the defeated plan.

Feaga has staunchly opposed removing allocations from the west, arguing that it is not fair for landowners who plan to sell their property under existing rules.

In late March, county officials reached an agreement with the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to remove the allocations from the western county in return for continued state funding for buying development rights for farmland.

The council's rejection of that plan could throw the deal into doubt, though that was not immediately clear last night.

In other votes, the council also approved higher taxicab rates and a resolution allowing Verizon to begin negotiations with county government to provide video services.

"Competition is good," Guzzone said as he voted on the franchise resolution.

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