D'Asto, Sigaty divided over Town Center plan

Columbia development not the only issue in 4th District County Council race

County Council

Maryland Votes 2006

20 Days Until Nov. 7

October 18, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN REPORTER

Republican Tom D'Asto is basing his campaign for Howard County Council on how Columbia's Town Center will be made over as an urban destination. Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty knows that subject well - but sees it as one of a basket of issues facing the county and District 4, which covers West Columbia, Clarksville and some of Ellicott City.

Sigaty, 56, a longtime Columbia resident and married mother of two, lost her first bid for the County Council seat by a mere 36 votes four years ago to District 4 Councilman Ken Ulman, now the Democratic candidate for county executive. She is a member of the county school board.

"I believe voters should choose me because I have experience in government and I have a long connection to community," Sigaty said.

D'Asto, 40, a mechanical analyst and married father of three, is a newcomer to politics hoping to buck the registration numbers in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 - but where 7,000 voters are listed as independent, the most in any of the five council districts.

"If we go by the number of Democratic registered voters, there is no reason to have an election," said D'Asto, of Clarksville. "I'm glad there are a number of Independent voters to make a difference."

Brian Harlin, the county's GOP chairman, agreed that "historically, it is a heavily Democratic district, but I think the dynamics have changed. ... Development issues are going to be a key issue."

The Democrats, however, also have high hopes for the independent vote.

"I would think a lot of the Independents have a tendency to vote Democratic since their friends and neighbors are Democratic," said Democratic Party Chairman Michael McPherson. "One would [believe] that a lot of people for whatever reason do not want to wear a party label."

For D'Asto, the proposed makeover of Town Center is the major issue facing the district and one that he says comes up in every encounter with voters, from door-to-door campaigning to candidate forums.

D'Asto said he was irritated by last year's charrette, a series of brainstorming sessions with residents, about the development of Town Center.

D'Asto dubbed the meetings "the charade" and said that politicians were rushing the process and misleading the members of the public into believing they were part of the planning.

The proposal for Town Center includes more than 5,000 housing units and increased retail and commercial development.

"This election is going to be a referendum on that plan," said D'Asto, who has his own an eight-point plan for development of Town Center, with attention to increased traffic, sewerage and other infrastructure needs related to population growth.

He said that planners are trying to turn Town Center into a city-like community.

"I think most of the people who moved to Columbia did not move for that," he said. "With overpop- ulation, you have failing schools, crime and pollution."

Sigaty agrees that Town Center development is a major issue.

"I am absolutely focused on it," she said, adding that she was involved with the discussions years ago - as a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board - when the Rouse Co. began discussions about greater density in Town Center.

In developing Town Center, she said, "affordable housing has to be a component, and it has to be housing of all income levels," she said. "It can't all be in the downtown and in developments near the village centers."

But Sigaty also said other county issues need to be discussed in the campaign, including public transportation for the county's growing senior population, schools, public safety concerns in village centers and affordable housing.

Sigaty said that downtown Columbia should include a mix of rental and ownership properties, and said the county should help buyers find low-cost loans.

"If we allow Town Center to consume every minute and to dominate discussion, then other important things are going to be put on the back burner," she said.

D'Asto counters that he is concerned with other issues as well, including the county's spending, property taxes and public transportation. Senior tax relief is important, he said, adding that his mother moved from Howard County to South Carolina because of the high taxes.

"I want to hold the line on spending, and I want to also reduce the tax rate. Seniors need to have a property tax break. It seems ridiculous we can't give support to this population," he said.

He also wants to change the direction of District 4 leadership and blames Democrats for the mismanagement, citing the charrette as an example.

Democrats dismiss such criticism as partisanship.

"This attack attitude is something that is going on in every race in the county," McPherson said.


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