County planning panel vice chairman resigns

Tornatore, known for his civility and patience, has moved out of state

July 23, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

H. Gregory Tornatore, who never failed to display civility and patience, even during the most trying times, has resigned from the Howard County Planning Board and relocated to his retirement cabin in Virginia.

Tornatore, who served recently as vice chairman, was appointed to the board three years ago. His five-year term was to expire in 2008.

A nominee to replace him could be submitted to the County Council for confirmation as early as September, said Herman Charity, who is in charge of finding a successor.

This will be the fourth time a new member has been added to the board since November 2004.

"We've already started the search," for Tornatore's replacement, said Charity, chief assistant to County Executive James N. Robey. Charity screens and recommends candidates for the board.

He said the process will be aided, and presumably accelerated, because the county was forced to go through the same process a few months ago. "We had a number of people apply the last time -- a lot of good people," Charity said. We're looking at them."

Charity will make his recommendation to Robey, who in turn will submit the nominee's name to the council for confirmation. The final two steps, though, are regarded largely as formalities.

The board has confronted some of the county's most pressing issues recently, and for about three years it has been unable to catch its breath.

Among the issues the board has tackled: comprehensive rezoning, the once-every-10-year process that shapes the county plan; a yearlong extension of that, known as "Comp Lite," which was contentious and remains tied up by lawsuits; plans to expand Turf Valley, the luxury planned community that became the subject of numerous lengthy and heated hearings and legal challenges; revitalization efforts for U.S. 40 and the U.S. 1 corridor.

"It's a tough job," Charity said. "Very demanding."

Tornatore is retired from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He was soft-spoken and a stickler for detail. He once spent several days at the county's central complex examining hundreds of pages of a traffic study and conducting his own calculations to assure himself that the study's figures and projections were reliable.

Tornatore, who could not be reached for comment, said in an interview in May that he regarded the board as the "eyes and ears" of the public. He often sided with neighborhood residents -- and against the formal recommendations of the Department of Planning and Zoning -- who opposed proposed developments.

"Whatever the public has to say, we want to hear that," he said. "... We don't want to do something that's going to fly in the face of huge opposition."

His votes, though, were not predictable. Tornatore was praised by residents in and near Turf Valley more than a year ago when he opposed increased density, then angered them this year when he endorsed a plan to add almost 100 acres to the development.

Even when the integrity of Planning Board members was questioned, Tornatore maintained his composure, refusing to reply uncharitably, and sometimes refusing to respond at all so as not to add fuel to the fire.

"I want to thank Greg for his time on the board," said David Grabowski, who was nominated to the board in late 2004. "I learned a lot from him."

Tornatore's resignation was announced Thursday night. Grabowski was elected vice chairman.

Tornatore moved to Smith Mountain Lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he has had a second home for years, said board member Linda A. Dombrowski. "He felt it was time," she said.

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