Rezoning lingers in limbo

As officials debate how to proceed, talk turns to ending the ban on fundraising

March 19, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

As elected officials grapple with how to resolve Harford County's derailed rezoning process, some said this week that they might also have to revisit a vow made last summer not to take campaign contributions until work on the bill was complete.

With an election looming, the original rezoning bill is technically dead and the window on the self-imposed moratorium on contributions recently expired. But property owners remain in limbo over the status of their rezoning requests, and officials have been discussing how to resume.

A potential solution was expected to be outlined at last week's council meeting but was pulled from the agenda late the previous week by Council President Robert S. Wagner, who voted against the bill and supported the veto but indicated the 15-month process might need to start from scratch.

"To make it simple, most of us feel we went through a comprehensive rezoning process that's been completed," the Republican said at the council meeting. "We're at the point of starting a new one, not an addition to the old one."

Wagner and Councilman Lance C. Miller of Darlington have been working for the past two weeks with members of Republican County Executive David R. Craig's administration to determine how to resurrect the bill in some form.

Miller, a Republican, said he favors bringing the bill back, without the amendments that led to the veto, and holding public hearings. No new applications would be accepted, but Craig and the council would work closely to craft a satisfactory bill.

There appears to be no consensus on how to proceed.

Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, a Republican from Aberdeen, said the county needs to play by the existing rules and start the process over, or he predicts numerous legal challenges would surface.

Others, such as Councilman Dion F. Guthrie of Joppatowne, said that would be a waste of time and resources. Guthrie said the county's Department of Planning and Zoning already has studied the property requests and made its decision. It's up to the council and the administration to come to a resolution.

Veronica L. "Roni" Chenowith said she has not made up her mind.

"The jury is still out," said the Republican from Fallston. "It's going to be challenged in court either way - do we decide to leave it dead or have taxpayers footing the bill for legal fees?"

In the meantime, some officials say there are campaigns to run.

"We can't not fundraise indeterminately," said Roxanne Lynch, director of government and community relations for Craig, who held a $500-a-ticket fundraiser on March 9. "The election is sooner than you think. We're trying to get the message out and make sure voters know that they have two choices."

Shortly after being sworn in as county executive, Craig said he would not accept campaign contributions during the rezoning process and the council followed suit, adopting a resolution that's stated purpose was to "remain objective."

The windows on those moratoriums expired Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, respectively, when the executive and council were expected to conclude their involvement. According to the county zoning code, Craig's veto ended the process, resulting in a reversion to the existing zoning designations that were determined in 1997.

Wagner, the council president, said he would advise council members to use discretion in whom they accept contributions from. He said he would not hold any campaign events until the summer.

"I would certainly advise council members if they ask me, or if they don't, that it would be bad policy to accept money from those who were seeking property changes," he said.

But until such guidelines are established, candidates should be free to fill their campaign coffers, others said.

Chenowith and Guthrie said the moratorium was a poor idea from the outset. Both said it gives an unfair advantage to candidates who are independently wealthy and that contributions aren't enough to sway politicians.

"My vote's not bought by a $100 or $200 ticket," Chenowith said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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