Petition against Columbia downtown plan faces deadline

March 30, 2010|By Larry Carson | Baltimore Sun reporter

Critics of Columbia's downtown redevelopment plan are facing a 4:30 p.m. Friday deadline for submitting at least 2,500 valid signatures as a first step toward putting the zoning for the project on the November ballot, and they are not sure if they'll succeed.

"We'll certainly have 2,500. The question is whether we'll have enough to survive all the rejections," said Russell Swatek, spokesman for the group called Taxpayers Against Giveaways. Swatek would not say exactly how many signatures the group had on Tuesday.

Maryland's strict rules on referendum petition signatures mean that more than 20 percent of those submitted are often disqualified. A General Assembly bill seeking to ease the technical rules on petition signatures has failed to move this year, despite having 19 of the 47 senators as sponsors, including committee chair, Sen. Joan Carter Conway and vice chair, Sen. Roy Dyson.

If Swatek's group does turn in 2,500 valid names, they have 30 days to double that number under the law. In addition, Howard Research and Development, an arm of Columbia's master developer, General Growth Properties, has filed a court challenge to the county election board's certification of the petition language.

The massive, three-decade plan, passed unanimously by the Howard County Council in February, would transform central Columbia from an auto-dominated, disconnected series of aging buildings and a shopping mall into a lively urban downtown.

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