Views mixed on new leadership in state

political notebook

January 21, 2007|By Larry Carson

Moods ranging from excitement to cautious optimism mark the reactions of some of Howard County's legislators to the inauguration of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and the start of a four-year term in state government.

"I'm incredibly excited, but not only because my party is in control of both houses and the governorship," said freshman Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat. "Maybe, just maybe, everybody will do their best for the state, not constantly be thinking about how it will appear in the papers."

He has urged his Republican colleagues, who have despaired about their role, not to feel they are irrelevant. "We're all going to work this out together," he said.

Another freshman, state Sen. James N. Robey, also a Democrat, said he, too, feels good. "I really do," because, he said, everyone in Annapolis seems to "see a chance of working together. I think the last four years - without blaming anyone - was difficult for everyone. No one enjoyed it, and they don't want to do it again."

Howard Republicans - state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman and Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller - said they are hopeful, but cautious.

"From my conversations with the new governor, I'm going to be optimistic until I have reason to be otherwise. He and I have had a couple of good conversations," Kittleman said.

He may not agree on some issues and he remains a "strong Republican," but "all indications are [that Democrats are] willing to have communications and work on issues."

Bates said she is looking for specifics, such as whether O'Malley will continue the state's commitment to improve and widen Route 32 in western Howard County.

"I certainly hope he remembers areas like ours. Route 32 is critical. We'll see. I'm anxious to see how the budget goes," said Bates. "Would I prefer [Republican Robert L. ] Ehrlich [Jr.] to be governor? Sure. But the voters have spoken."

Miller says he is looking "for some common areas we can work with the governor on," but also wonders about the wisdom of putting $400 million into school construction in one year.

"Are you really going to get value for your money?" he said.

Despite those questions, even a 20-year General Assembly veteran like Democratic state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the new Senate majority leader, feels the optimism.

"I think it's a very positive atmosphere," Kasemeyer said. "Elected officials seemingly have gotten the public's message that they expect them to make progress and solve the problems, and we're responding to that."

Outdoor meetings

The idea of banning outdoor meetings at night on vacant lots where developments are planned appears to be moving toward County Council approval at the next voting session March 5.

But even the supporters have a few suggestions for changes to the bill, which was sponsored by Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, and co-sponsored by two other members, Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, and Greg Fox, a western county Republican. A discussion is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon during a council work session.

Four supporters and no opponents testified at a council public hearing last week, but League of Women Voters Co-President Grace Kubofcik and Angela Beltram, who said she spoke both for herself and the Howard County Citizens Association, offered a few suggestions.

Beltram said developers sometimes tell community members one development plan, but then submit a different one to the county, leaving residents unaware. If the plan is changed, a second community meeting should be required, Beltram said. Speaking for the citizens association, she suggested requiring the information meetings for Columbia, too, though she noted that would require a second bill and a hearing by the Planning Board.

The county requires developers to hold meetings about their proposed developments before submitting plans to the county, but the meetings are required to be in the evenings and within three miles of the building sites. A few developers outraged residents recently by scheduling outside night meetings on the development lots, claiming they could not find a room nearby.

One meeting, scheduled for Dec. 14, for a hotly contested, 59-unit subsidized apartment house planned for a 2.5-acre lot on Frederick Road in western Ellicott City raised a furor, and led county officials to shift the meeting at the last minute to the County Council chambers. Nearly 400 people came to protest plans for the building.

The county Office of Law has concluded that the project can't go forward, however, because of a requirement that the county Housing Commission must own the land and building. While the county Housing Commission owns the land, the commission would be part-owner of the building.

Watson's bill would require that the meetings be held indoors within five miles of the site, but also allows county planners to issue an exception in unusual cases.

Kubofcik suggested that a county planner be required to attend every presubmission meeting to explain to people what is going on and to take notes on what the developer is proposing.

"Many community members have no idea of the development process," Kubofcik said.

John Lederer and Patrick Crowe, leaders of the Friends of Font Hill - the group opposed to Centennial Gardens - also supported the bill.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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