Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

August 28, 2005

New zoning won't have desired effect

According to the legislative intent adopted by the Zoning Board, one of the primary purposes of zoning regulations is to protect and preserve the value of land. As I sat in the meeting on August 2 at Glenelg High School and listened to the Department of Planning and Zoning's new proposed zoning regulations, I did not get the impression that these regulations, if adopted, are going to have the desired effect of either protecting or preserving the value of land in Western Howard County.

By the County's own admission, the County has not been on a level playing field with area developers in placing valuable farmland in preservation since 1997. The preservation parcels that have been created since 1997 have been the result of private developers purchasing density rights from area farmers and placing their property in permanent preservation using non-taxpayers' money.

What the proposed regulations are intending to do is to limit the ability of landowners to send and purchase future density rights in the rural conservation zoning district without offering any realistic alternatives to landowners.

So what is the solution? If the County is truly concerned about the direction that development has taken in the west, they may need to re-examine the cluster zoning regulations adopted in 1992.

With the size of the homes being constructed in the West continuing to increase, it has become increasingly difficult to fit these types of homes on minimum lot sizes which have now been reduced to two-thirds of an acre in some subdivisions. This recent trend has resulted in many cases of poor storm drainage design and the necessity of community well and septic systems with no buffers between the preservation parcels and the cluster lots.

Perhaps a more reasonable approach would be to explore the option of increasing the minimum lot sizes for cluster subdivisions and to create buffers between the parcels. Although it will have the net effect of reducing the number of building lots, it will at least be based upon rational reasoning.

If we are going to do a mid-stream corrections, please do it for the right reasons after appropriate public input. Our land and individual property rights are too important to sacrifice for the wrong reasons.

Joan Becker

Woodbine

Don't limit the arts in `backpack' mail

It was with great dismay that the arts community learned recently of the Howard County Board of Education's changes to the county schools' "backpack" mail distribution system.

The Board's decision excludes arts groups -- including nongovernmental nonprofits such as the Howard County Arts Council -- from those organizations allowed to distribute ma- terials to students in the Howard County Public Schools.

Many arts groups we support have found distributing information via the schools essential to ensuring that families countywide have equal access to information about their services and activities.

The Arts Council itself uses the system to make students aware of arts opportunities, including college scholarship programs. Losing this distribution system is likely to restrict our ability to reach the broad community we seek to serve.

An even greater concern, however, is that the Board's decision allows nonprofit youth sports leagues to continue to distribute information while virtually all other youth-serving community nonprofits have been excluded from the system.

While the Arts Council recognizes that the schools may need to consider limiting the distribution process, particularly in light of recent litigation involving the Montgomery County School System, we are very concerned about the message the Board of Education is sending with their new list of approved organizations.

Allowing sports organizations to continue to distribute information suggests that athletic activities are of greater value to students than experiences in core subjects such as the arts and humanities.

The most recent court decision regarding the Montgomery County process (Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Montgomery County Public Schools. No 03-162. District of Md. 24 March 2005) indicates that a nonpublic distribution process (one open to select groups only) in the schools is reasonable as long as the selected participants' "subject matter relates to themes of traditional educational relevance." The arts, like sports, have been taught as a core subject in the Howard County Public School System for decades, and have significant educational relevance to students. Following the Board of Education and the Court's own conclusions, the arts should have equal access to this service.

We ask that the Board of Education reconsider their decision and either amend the process to include all community nonprofits whose programs supplement curricular experiences or exclude all nongovernment agencies except PTAs and school-affiliated booster clubs.

Anne Barney

The writer is president of the Howard County Arts Council.

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