Deadline looms for Columbia petition

March 31, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

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 whether 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 often result in the disqualification of more than 20 percent of those submitted. 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.

If Swatek's group does turn in 2,500 valid names, it has 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 elections board's certification of the petition language.

The 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 what proponents say will be a lively urban downtown.

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