Columbia zoning challenge dismissed

Judge cites technicality

August 28, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A circuit judge dismissed Friday an attempt to revive a failed petition drive that would have let voters decide in November whether to confirm County Council approval of rezoning for downtown Columbia.

Judge Richard S. Bernhardt granted a motion from the county elections board to dismiss the case, on grounds that the group Taxpayers Against Giveaways never submitted a required memorandum explaining its legal arguments despite months of notice. As a result, county elections attorney Mike Molinaro said, he had nothing to respond to with early voting in the election less than two months off.

"We're at a loss. It's been more than four months," Molinaro said. Kevin M. Joyce, the attorney representing the group, conceded, "There's no excuse," but said confusion caused the gaffe.

Bernhardt agreed there was no excuse for not filing the memorandum and, given the lack of time before sample ballots must be printed and mailed, he dismissed the case. The county board of elections had found 2,139 valid signatures on the first batch of petitions the group submitted in April, though a minimum of 2,501 were required. The group contends that the 30-year redevelopment plan for central Columbia allows far too many new residential apartments and is too developer-friendly. Organizer Russell Swatek said after the hearing he isn't sure if he'll appeal further.

E. Alexander Adams, another lawyer involved in the case, criticized Maryland's strict signature standards, describing them to Bernhardt as the equivalent of trying "to thread a needle standing on a motorcycle going 60 miles per hour." The law requires a signature identical to the one on a voter's registration card, or a first and last name plus middle initial, along with a date of birth and home address.

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