Deadline bid could save `Comp Lite' referendum

Political notebook

July 09, 2006|By LARRY CARSON

A last-ditch attempt is under way to get a referendum back on the November ballot to overturn the "Comp Lite" omnibus zoning bill.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, is being asked to allow the citizens group that collected more than 7,000 signatures on petitions to intervene in the case. The court has given the county Board of Elections and landowners opposed to the referendum until July 20 to respond.

At a news conference in front of Howard County elections board headquarters Friday, Angela Beltram, leader of the citizens group, denounced the board for deciding not to seek a Court of Appeals review of the case.

"The board has taken the side of the appellants who represent the developers, and turned its back on its own director and all of us," she said.

"The people of this county will not allow the politicians, the developers or the government to trample their rights," Beltram continued. "This entire fiasco is illegal, unscrupulous and scandalous."

Katherine Taylor, the group's lawyer, said the motion to intervene was accompanied by a writ of certiorari -- a request that the high court review a Court of Special Appeals decision that last month declared the referendum petitions defective, throwing the issue off the ballot. The elections board followed that with a decision not to ask for Court of Appeals review.

Taylor also said the group of landowners who went to court to kill the referendum missed a crucial deadline for appealing the board's approval of the language of the petitions -- something she said would strengthen the bid for intervention.

Harry Siegel, the landowners' attorney, was not available for comment Friday.

Comp Lite is a complex 91-page bill that changed zoning on 38 parcels and also changed 49 zoning rules. The County Council approved the bill on a 4-1 vote in early 2005, but opponents have sought to put it up for a vote by referendum.

Independent voice

Mona Brinegar, a systems analyst and mother of two who moved with her family to western Ellicott City a dozen years ago, is one of those registered independent voters fed up with congestion and development, and she hopes to do something about it.

At 7 p.m. tomorrow, at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, Brinegar is holding the first of what she plans as a series of meetings for voters unhappy with the major party choices for county offices. C. Stephen Wallis, who is trying to gather enough signatures to be certified as an independent candidate, and Beltram, who led the drive to petition the Comp Lite zoning bill to referendum, are invited to speak.

It is unclear how the groundswell of anti-development sentiment will play out in this year's elections, but Brinegar said she is not a Wallis partisan.

"I'm not in his campaign. I've been waiting for independent voters to set up a meeting in Howard County," she said, adding that current major party elected officials are too close to developers. "We're just not being heard by our elected officials. We need some real leaders."

Congestion has an impact on every aspect of her life, she said, from the route she takes to work in Woodlawn to food shopping.

"Land development affects everything we do," she said, from crowded recreation programs for children to school and highway crowding.

When reminded that some might argue that the problem is families such as hers, who moved to Howard County relatively recently and now complain that too many others did the same, she laughed.

"I guess everybody wants to shut the door after them," she said, noting, however, that her family settled in an existing home, not a new one. People should be able to continue to move to Howard County, she said.

Two more on ballot

Two new candidates -- both Democrats -- filed to run as the July 3 deadline approached, including Jeffrey L. Underwood for County Council in west Columbia's District 4. Nina Basu, 25, a law student who serves on the Long Reach Village board, filed in the already-crowded Democratic primary contest for House of Delegates in District 13, which covers the southeastern county.

Howard County State's Attorney Tim McCrone is the only incumbent without a challenger.

Basu said she is running to push progressive issues and because "it's time for people in my generation to step up and take some leadership."

Basu joins all three Democratic incumbents, Shane E. Pendergrass, Frank S. Turner and Neil F. Quinter, as well as County Councilman Guy Guzzone, who are vying for the three delegate seats. Republicans have no primary, with Rick Bowers, Loretta Gaffney and Mary Beth Tung seeking to unseat the Democrats.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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