Hopefuls thinking outside big-box

District 7 challengers focus on development in quest for County Council seat

Maryland Votes 2006

October 11, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

While political candidates across Anne Arundel County have been assailed by voters fearing massive development trampling their communities, nowhere have those cries been louder than in District 7.

Proposals for a Wal-Mart in Crofton and a Target in Wayson's Corner have inflamed the passions of residents who live in the county's mostly rural southern half, making big-box building the top election issue.

In this Republican stronghold, which extends from Crofton, Riva and Edgewater to the Calvert County line, first-time office-seekers Democrat Eric Lipsetts and the Green Party's Robb Tufts have tried to capitalize on the discontent and accuse the Republican incumbent, Councilman Edward R. Reilly, of not taking a hard stand on development.

Reilly said his record over his first term reflects a desire to keep South County rural and promote responsible growth. He sponsored a new law to halt building along narrow farm roads.

He voted to increase the maximum fine for Critical Area violations from $500 to $10,000. He supported closing a loophole on family conveyance to stop the overdevelopment of farm tracts. And, he has strongly advocated for farmland preservation.

Last month, he cited environmental concerns in pulling a bill that kept on the drawing board the proposed 195,000-square-foot Village at Lee Airport retail-residential complex in Edgewater.

"I have reflected the values of the citizens," said Reilly, before adding: "I think I have."

The 56-year-old Crofton resident and insurance agent is against the proposed Wal-Mart, noting environmental issues of building on wetlands abutting Little Patuxent River. But, he does not exhibit the anger of some of his constituents.

He is not opposed to a 128,000-square-foot Target store across from Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, although he said he's holding the project "to the highest standard." He noted that the commercial zoning for these two projects were approved well before he took office in 2002.

His opponents vehemently oppose the big-box projects.

Lipsetts, 54, said the county can keep the retailers out by giving local community development plans - also known as Small Area Plans - "great weight" in all zoning decisions.

"People who really knew what they were doing drafted these plans," said Lipsetts, who lives in Harwood. "They are smart; they are consistent; they fit together. They reflect the desire of the people who live here."

Tufts, a 33-year-old Churchton resident who has been running since April, supports a ban on all big-box stores in South County. He said that too often, developers try to dictate what a community needs. Tufts said the process should be the other way around. "The community should be the guiding force," he said.

Reilly agrees with the two that the plans must be updated and revised to more closely reflect what residents want.

The incumbent said the county faces a comprehensive review of the county's Critical Area laws and a budget crisis brought on by a $1.5 billion school maintenance backlog and other infrastructure demands related to a pending job boom at Fort Meade, along with a decline in real-estate tax revenue. Reilly said he can be "an advocate for the very difficult decisions to be made."

Lipsetts said his experience as a private-practice lawyer in Annapolis qualifies him to write bills and interpret laws that can promote what he calls "smart development." The Democrat said the county must expand the ranks of firefighters and police officers and promote "green" building standards.

The county Democratic Central Committee nominated Lipsetts after no one else stepped forward. Lipsetts has repeatedly challenged Reilly to a debate, but Reilly has refused.

"It's not that he doesn't talk to me," Lipsetts said. "He won't talk to the people and tell people where he really stands."

Tufts, an analyst for a government consulting firm, has focused on three issues: affordable housing, clean air and water, and limited development. He wants to require developers to set aside a portion of their projects for affordable housing for the middle class. "We are losing a generation of residents who can't afford to live here," he said.

He has done environmental work for the Spa Creek Conservancy and the South River Federation, and he is a member of the South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD).

Tufts said he didn't think his lack of formal political experience would be a detriment. "I would bring in fresh ideas," he said.

The two challengers face a challenge, partly because they could draw from the same voting base.

The district has 21,840 Republicans, 18,647 Democrats and the highest number of independents in any of the county's seven districts, 8,747. While Lipsetts got a late start into the race, joining in July, Tufts has spent months going door to door, trying to tap Democrats and independents.

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