Public testimony heard on a range of bills proposed for the Assembly

Kittleman seeking to protect private land from urban renewal


State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman subscribes to the school of thought that people should be able to own vacant lots, or other parcels of land, and not have to worry about the government trying to take that land because it thinks it can put the space to better use.

So Kittleman is sponsoring a Howard County bill proposed for the General Assembly that aims to amend the Maryland Constitution to prevent the county from condemning private property for urban renewal.

"That's a real slippery slope, if we start saying that the government should decide what's the most productive use of the property," Kittleman said Tuesday night at a public hearing on 19 bills the Howard delegation is proposing for the session.

More than 100 people attended the hearing at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. The delegation heard public testimony on a range of bills, including a $500,000 state bond request for the expansion of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center and a proposal to reduce the local income tax rate from 3.2 percent to 3 percent.

Seven of the bills, including one that aims to reduce local property taxes for senior citizens, are repeats from last year's session.

Kittleman said his legislation, which would narrow the county's ability to condemn property, is a response to a recent Supreme Court decision allowing the condemnation of Connecticut homes for a private economic development project.

But Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said the county does not have a history of abusing its ability to condemn land. She said she doesn't imagine the county would ever take land where an active business or someone's home sits. But she said there are some cases where condemnation against the owner's wishes is necessary because the owner is demanding too much money.

"There are always instances ... where someone is holding out for a price that is beyond reason," McLaughlin said.

Of the seven requests for state bond funding for local projects, all but one are for $500,000. Republican Del. Gail H. Bates is sponsoring a bill that seeks $200,000 in state bond money to help create a Living Farm Heritage Museum on county-owned land in West Friendship.

Former state Sen. James Clark Jr., a member of the Antique Farm Machinery Club, which is building the museum, told the delegation that the money would be a small investment for what it would help produce.

"We've got a long-term lease," he said. "And whatever we put there is going to be there forever. ... It'll be the best money you ever appropriate."

The delegation also heard testimony on two liquor bills, one that would allow wineries to sell wine in Howard, which has no wineries, and another that would allow multiple liquor licenses to be granted to the same person or corporation.

Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said such a law would allow companies that own multiple restaurants to build more establishments in the county.

"To have a successful restaurant, you need an alcohol license," he said.

Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr. is sponsoring two bills pertaining to sheriff's deputies. One bill would give the deputies the right to organize and bargain collectively, while the other aims to enhance their workers' compensation benefits.

Cpl. Andrew S. Mackert, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 131, which represents 28 deputies, said the legislation is necessary to help the agency attract younger deputies.

"When you have currently four guys in a law enforcement agency under 40, typically that's not natural," he said.

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