Ulman speaks out on zoning

He suggests forming independent board

more child care also recommended

Maryland Votes 2006

September 22, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Zoning and child care are subjects that don't often intersect, but as Howard County's three-way race for county executive heats up, Ken Ulman, the Democratic nominee, staked out new positions on both this week.

Ulman said he wants before- and after-school programs in Howard County to expand and to eliminate a 448-child waiting list countywide, helping working parents.

"It makes a huge difference in people's lives," he said about the programs that care for 3,000 children in 44 school buildings, according to county Recreation and Parks Director Gary Arthur, whose staff runs the sessions and hires workers.

Arthur said the state requires 25 square feet per child, but that he could hire and train more employees if more space in schools -- preferably classrooms -- were available.

Fees paid by parents finance the programs.

Ulman has asked to discuss the idea with the school board at the County Council's next meeting with the board, Oct. 11.

He chose a forum sponsored by the North Laurel Civic Association on Tuesday night at Murray Hill Middle School to announce his child care idea because nearby Forest Ridge Elementary has the longest waiting list in the county.

At Forest Ridge, 34 children are waiting for before-school care and 32 are waiting for after-school programs, Ulman said.

"I am certain we can work with the school system to make arrangements for additional space," Ulman said.

Pam Noppenberger attended the forum and said she is one of those on the waiting list.

"If the school doesn't open until 9 or 9:30, how is a parent supposed to get to work on time?" she said.

Schools Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin agreed that "we need to expand it. We're working toward it," he said. "We can certainly make more space."

The touchy zoning issue came up the next day at a forum held at a Columbia hotel by the Business Women's Network.

Ulman has been harshly criticized on zoning by Republican candidate Christopher J. Merdon, who repeatedly has told audiences about his lone vote against the comprehensive zoning bill that changed permitted uses on dozens of properties, mostly along U.S. 40. The bill was called "Comp Lite" and its 4-1 passage prompted a public furor and petition drive, though a court decision kept the bill off the November ballot.

In Howard County, the five County Council members also sit as the Zoning Board, deciding land-use issues.

At the luncheon, Ulman said he now favors a separate county Zoning Board -- a position closer to one held by Angela Beltram, a former county councilwoman and a leader of the Comp Lite opponents.

In answer to a question about what each candidate would do first after taking office, Ulman said zoning would be his priority.

"I would really take a look at the zoning process in Howard County, probably looking at an independent Zoning Board," he said.

Ulman's move sharpens the contrast on zoning between him and Merdon, who firmly favors the current arrangement because he said it makes council members directly accountable to voters for their land-use decisions.

"I'm still in favor of the County Council being the Zoning Board," Merdon said. "We're directly accountable to citizens. An appointed board is not."

C. Stephen Wallis, the independent candidate for executive, said he has favored an appointed zoning authority since starting to campaign in June.

"I was the first one to say it should be depoliticized," he said, adding that he favors the county executive and council appointing either a professional zoning expert as a zoning commissioner, or a board.

Beltram was not impressed with Ulman's move, though she said, "I'm glad he's considering it. I'm down on him because of what he did to older communities [in the Comp Lite bill]."

Because Ulman has concentrated more on his own council district covering west Columbia, she said, "I think he has no concept on what happens on zoning issues outside Columbia."

She rejected Merdon's accountability argument, because, she said, voters in each district can only vote for one council member, but all five make zoning decisions.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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