Petition to block zoning changes in Columbia likely a failure

April 07, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

The petition drive to block some zoning changes for the 30-year plan to redevelop central Columbia appears doomed, based on a preliminary review of signatures by the Howard County Board of Elections.

After two days of counting, the board posted numbers on its Web site late Wednesday that showed the drive has a mathematical chance to pass its first hurdle but virtually no practical chance. Critics of the residential portion of the plan that would allow up to 5,500 new residences in town center need to have collected 2,501 valid signatures to pass the first requirement. They are challenging the unanimous county council vote to approve the zoning.

According to board figures, 3,491 names were submitted on Friday, and 2,343 have been reviewed. Of those, 901 were invalid — a 38 percent rejection rate. With just 1,148 names left to review, 1,058 would need to be valid to qualify for the next step, which would equal an 8 percent rejection rate.

Russell Swatek, the drive's leader and spokesman, all but conceded defeat Wednesday. "I don't feel good. This points out the problems with the process," he said.

County election administrator Betty L. Nordaas said the numbers are preliminary and the count will be repeated before a final result is posted next week, but she said the main problem was that signatures either did not match those on official voter rolls, or failed to match the printed name on the petition. Maryland law requires that exact match. A bill to make gathering valid names easier has languished in Annapolis this year.

"It's very frustrating for me as an administrator," Nordaas said, "but I'm just following the law."

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