The idea of limiting package-goods liquor store licenses by statute in Howard County did not survive the General Assembly's 90-day session, but the spirit of the local bill might have.
Instead of a bill that decreed no more than one carryout liquor store per 2,600 residents in each of the five county planning districts, the bill unanimously approved by the full General Assembly requires the county's Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board to specifically address the need and community desire for a new store; the number and location of existing licenses; and the effect a new store might have on traffic, crime, parking and general public health and safety.
"That's the best they can do, I guess," said Angela Beltram, an Ellicott City resident who, with support from the Howard County Licensed Beverage Association, pushed hard for a limit after a new store was approved for a stretch of U.S. 40 near her home. Seven other liquor stores are already there.
The population limit was too complicated, she said. "Now, at least [the liquor board will] have to address it."
Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill along with House delegation chairman Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat, said the problem was that using a population limit would give the licenses a market value, which is something several county state senators objected to.
"We were trying to find a way to help communities like Valleymeade" on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City, Miller said. If the new legislation doesn't work, the delegation can address the issue again next year, he added.
Beltram said she hopes it makes the board's decisions more consistent. "We're going to be watching things," she said.
Another local bill approved would allow residents to see a list of all school board contracts of more than $25,000 awarded. A link to the list would be posted on the school board Web site. Miller sponsored that bill.
A bill to aid mobile home residents statewide who face a park closure for redevelopment was also approved by the General Assembly, said state. Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat who has tried for three years to get similar legislation approved with support from a grass-roots group called People Acting Together in Howard, or PATH. Robey sponsored the Senate bill this year, while the House version was sponsored by Dels. James E. Malone, a Democrat who represents parts of Elkridge and Ellicott City, and Towson's Stephen W. Lafferty, a Democrat who is also a Howard County planning official.
Robey said the final version of the bill would allow residents of mobile home parks with at least 39 units who are facing closure to keep 10 months of lot rental payments to use for relocation expenses. State law already requires that they get one year's notice of a closing.
The big news locally, though, was Howard's success in getting $1.39 million in state bond money for a variety of projects — more than double the amount in state bond money the county got last session.
Although several witnesses at the delegation's annual November public hearing urged forgoing this kind of earmark funding, Guzzone said $15 million was going to be divided statewide whether Howard got any or not.
"We have a responsibility to bring as much of that money home to Howard County as possible.
Included is $455,000 to help start work on Troy Hill Park in Elkridge; $250,000 to help the Columbia Association transform Symphony Woods; $500,000 to help pay for a new building at Ellicott City's Linwood Center for autistic children; $75,000 for restrooms and other facilities at Alpha Ridge Park; $25,000 more for a concrete pad for a telescope to watch the starts, also at Alpha Ridge; $35,000 for the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club that uses county land across from the West Friendship fairgrounds; and $50,000 to help renovate Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage.
CA election time
The issues in the one contested election for a seat on the Columbia Association board might be tot lots and neighborhood grocery stores rather than death and taxes, but that doesn't mean they aren't as deeply felt by those involved. Election day is April 24.
Philip Kirsch, 63 and the retiring CA board chairman, is defending his post as Wilde Lake's representative on the 10-member board. He's competing for the seat for the third consecutive year with Linda Odum, 68 , a Realtor and former board member.
At a candidates debate April 8, Odum attacked Kirsch and the board for a plan to eliminate a few lightly used tot lots over the next decade, and perhaps replace them with other outdoor facilities for adults. The ghost of the long-gone Giant supermarket at the Wilde Lake Village Center also again reared its head.
Kirsch, channeling comedian Woody Allen, said the most important thing in his view is actually showing up for meetings, which he's done 150 times in the past year and Odum said she does not normally do, since the public gets little chance to participate.