AS HOWARD County officials fret over how to preserve more farmland without hurting western county landowners, slow-growth advocate and two-time Republican County Council candidate John Taylor says the GOP had better be careful not to take the area for granted.
Republicans have dominated the rural west for years now, but Taylor said there are more homeowners than landowners worried about congestion, and a County Council candidate with an aggressive slow-growth platform could gather public interest in next year's elections, whatever the party.
"Somebody who comes in with the right message could win support," including a Democrat, he said.
In 2002, incumbent Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman won re-election in the district with 70 percent of the vote, and there are more registered Republicans than registered Democrats in District 5.
But the district stretches to Fulton and North Laurel in the southeast, as well as to parts of western Ellicott City in the northeast, Taylor said. Festering resentment over development could provide fertile ground for the right candidate, especially if Republicans seem timid on the issue, he said.
That is a view to which Wendy Fiedler, the county Democratic Party chairwoman, said she also subscribes.
No Democrat has surfaced to run for the western County Council seat that will be open next year after interim Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican, leaves office.
"We're talking to people who are interested in running in western Howard. There's always opportunity there for the right candidate with the right stance on the issues," Fiedler said.
Kittleman is skeptical of a Democrat's chances in the rural west, but he said he agrees with Taylor about the importance of the growth issue in the west.
"I think that's probably the biggest issue facing the voters in 2005, just as it was in 2002 and 1998," he said.
Kittleman said he, Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican who has announced his candidacy for the District 5 seat, and Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican running for county executive, all favor "predictability, not downzoning."
Fox also stressed predictability as his goal, along with adequate public facilities. But he declined to specify his growth-control ideas or whether he would favor a suggestion to reduce the number of new houses allowed each year in the west from 250 to 150.
"I don't know. It depends on how everything is tied together. It's probably too early for me to make a comment regarding that," he said.
Taylor said he does not favor zoning changes that would reduce the value of people's land in the west, but he does favor slowing the pace of homebuilding and opposes transferring building rights from one parcel to another.
"I favor slowing growth in the west, and I'm opposed to all density transfers," he said. Reducing the number of homes built by 100 a year is fine with him, he said, as long as those homes are not added somewhere else.
County planners have said that prime farmland is being consumed by new homes because building rights are sold and transferred to rural parcels as often as to land zoned for development.
Proposals by Marsha S. McLaughlin, the county planning director, to allow one house on 10 acres of rural land instead of the current standard of one per 4.25 acres were solidly opposed by landowners at a public meeting Aug. 2.
Visibility at the fair
Slogging through humid heat in August 2005 in search of votes for the U.S. Senate in 2006 may seem masochistic, but U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin says it is never too early.
Cardin and a band of supporters hit the Howard County Fair on its final day last week, one stop in a daylong series of public campaign appearances.
Despite the heat that limited the crowd, Cardin said, "We had a great time." The smaller crowd allowed him to be more visible, he reasoned.
Cardin, a 10-term Democrat, has for years represented much of Columbia and parts of eastern Howard County in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now he is campaigning to replace U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who is retiring. Until now, Cardin has been focused mainly on raising money and getting the support of party regulars for his primary battle with former Congressman Kwesi Mfume.
"We are trying to improve our name recognition and visibility in all parts of Maryland," Cardin said. "The advantage of a long election is that you can do grass roots. The building blocks translate into votes. If you just show up the month before an election, people say, `Where have you been?' "