Ulman's campaign promise became `incredibly tough issue'

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

October 07, 2007|By Larry Carson

On Nov. 3, just days before last year's election, Democratic county executive nominee Ken Ulman called a news conference and said, "The community's voice has been loud and clear that a 23-story building has no place in our Town Center. As county executive, I will introduce a height limit for New Town zoning to prohibit any building over 14 stories."

Ulman, of course, won the election. But not only hasn't the county executive introduced a height limit, he has kept a low profile on two height-limit bills introduced by Mary Kay Sigaty, his successor on the County Council.

Ulman has promised to sign Sigaty's now-tabled bills if they are ever approved by the council, but he is banking on a negotiated compromise to extract him from the pressure he is getting from both sides - tower opponents who often remind him of his campaign promise, and an aroused business community opposed to blocking a project that has building permits and is under way.

"They had permits granted before I was [sworn in as] county executive," Ulman said last week of WCI Communities Inc., the firm building the Plaza Residences project in Town Center. "It's a very serious matter to change the rules in midstream. Based on the conflicting forces, I'm very hopeful of a compromise."

He has "conflicting emotions," too, Ulman said. "It has been an incredibly tough issue."

Still, tower opponents are holding their fire.

"Let's just say we are glad that Executive Ulman has called the meetings ... in an attempt to reach a compromise solution. We certainly would have liked to see him do more and to have done more sooner to execute on his promise to block the tower," said Alan Klein, who speaks for the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown.

Lloyd Knowles, one of four parties to take legal action to block the tower, said Ulman has "been reminded a number of times what he's said. His answer so far is that the tower is not built."

Knowles said the opponents expect more.

"We fully expect him to use his good offices to make this happen," Knowles said. If Ulman's Department of Planning and Zoning had been more supportive of Sigaty's bills, Knowles said, "this is one way he could have demonstrated very publicly that his administration did support blocking the tower. That didn't happen."

Sigaty says she holds no animosity toward Ulman.

"From my perspective, he has been supportive of this because he has worked hard to bring people to the table. He's actually tried to help me accomplish the goal."

McCuan fundraiser

Patrick McCuan is nothing if not generous to the Howard County Republican Party.

For years, the real estate developer has donated space in his firm's offices near The Mall in Columbia as meeting space for the party central committee. Last week, he hosted a well-attended fundraising picnic for state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman at McCuan's 115-acre Sunset Hill Farm in Woodbine.

Kittleman drew more than 300 people to the affair, which raised more than $20,000 for his kitty, he said - and not all from hard-core political types.

The Kittleman family's roots in western Howard run deep, and the senator said some who attended were there because he is Robin Kittleman's husband, or because they have been friends since elementary or high school, or because they are the parents of friends of the Kittlemans' four children.

"You trust me," he said, and though voters may not agree with him on every issue, "I want to go down there [Annapolis] and be honest."

Kittleman, minority whip in the state Senate, is one of the Maryland GOP's newly prominent public voices.

Louis M. Pope, a former county party chairman and now national committeeman, said Kittleman's "rational, objective and pragmatic" approach to issues, together with his new job, has led to his new prominence.

Del. Warren E. Miller said he felt Kittleman's assignment to the powerful Senate Finance Committee has also increased his stature in the General Assembly.

"You're not on friendly turf. I give him a lot of credit," Miller said. Lobbyist Bruce Bereano also attended the picnic, one of three events for three senators - one Democrat and two Republicans - Bereano planned to visit last Sunday.

State Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley spurred the partisan crowd with criticism of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed sales and income tax increases to help eliminate a projected $1.7 billion shortfall.

"This governor and legislature is poised to take more of every hard-earned dollar you make," Brinkley said, adding that "the state doesn't have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem."

Kittleman said Republicans are too few to change state policy or defeat tax increases alone.

"We need to have people on both sides of the aisle to do this," he told the approving crowd, standing inside one of four barns on the farm.

McCuan's interests span the geographic and political distance between Columbia and the rural western county.

The developer and his wife, Jill, took over the horse farm several years ago, he said, converting the former thoroughbred breeding facility once owned by the late Baltimore Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger into a center for teaching horsemanship to young people.

But McCuan said the debate over redevelopment of Columbia's Town Center and the attempt to block the 275-foot-high Plaza Residence tower there also worry him.

If the tower is stopped now that work has begun, McCuan, like many business owners, thinks it will hurt the county's commercial climate, and perhaps affect larger projects to come.

"The companies we need to rebuild downtown Columbia - these people are all concerned," he said. "This is being discussed in boardrooms of real quality developers."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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