Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

May 27, 2007

County's older areas need assistance, too

In the article of Sunday, May 20, it was noted that County Executive Ken Ulman was to attend the International Conference of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas. In the article, he noted that he was worried about the revitalization of older shopping centers, specifically those in Columbia that have some vacancies.

I would suggest to Mr. Ulman that the U.S. 40 corridor, the oldest strictly commercial center in Howard County, needs "revitalization" as studied and recommended by the Route 40 Enhancement Study. The study has been on the shelf for nearly three years, and the project manager has been assigned elsewhere. There are always vacancies there.

We are aware that Mr. Ulman lives in Columbia and has a special feeling for it. I do, too. But to indicate through a number of actions that Columbia needs more help than anywhere else in the county is of great concern. After all, Columbia is a wonderfully "planned" community. The rest of Howard County is not.

I would hope that this international conference will provide him and the Economic Development Authority "international" concepts such as pleasant walkways, service roads, landscaping improvements and signs that are not visually abusive. And guess what? Most of these suggestions already exist in Columbia.

I ask only that Mr. Ulman recognize and take action on the needs in the really older communities in Howard County.

Angela Beltram Ellicott City

Sun should report the whole story

On Wednesday, May 9, The Sun's Howard section featured yet another article on the battle over WCI's plan for a multistory building in Columbia's "New Town" district. While reporting the argument of WCI's attorney, the article fails to identify the pertinent arguments encompassing this plan that will create a significant change in the county's landscape.

As background, Howard County law excludes local citizens and their elected officials from the evaluation of a plan for development. Once a property owner proposes the development of a site, section 16.103 of the Howard County Code requires the appointed Planning Board to approve any proposal, unless the plan violates a controlling regulation. Of relevance to the current debate, the New Town district has no limitation on the height of a building.

In January 2006, the Planning Board approved WCI's plan for a "22-story retail and apartment building." Claiming that the building conflicts with controlling regulations, local citizens have appealed this approval. Rather than await the outcome of this litigation, Mary Kay Sigaty of the Howard County Council has proposed legislation to impose a height restriction on buildings in the New Town district. The legislation may be seen as remedial, in that, of the County Code's 37 zoning districts, New Town is unusual in that it imposes no height restriction on buildings. Because of this remedial nature, the new law may be applied retroactively.

Contrary to The Sun's reporting, Maryland courts have uniformly ruled that developers must comply with changes in zoning laws. A property owner's right to build is not "vested" when the owner's authority is in litigation. Also, there is no "vested" right until "the actual physical commencement of some significant and visible construction." Thus, the law may be applied to WCI.

The real story is whether the retroactive application of the law is bad public policy. The Sun can help its readers in this evaluation. WCI may explain the need for predictability in governmental action, and The Sun can report on the other instances where such predictability benefited or harmed the community. Others may demand that the county government protect the county's natural resources and infrastructure, and The Sun can report on the merits of these arguments. In addition, the potential for further, similar development may be relevant. The debate may also include the relative merits of a system that grants nearly unlimited power to property owners.

Since these and other arguments will determine the future of Columbia and Howard County, The Sun would do its readers a great service by reporting on these critical aspects of the debate, rather than the dubious argument of the developer's attorney.

Matt P. Lavine Clarksville

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