Councilman plans override effort on South County vetoes

South County's Walker hopes to persuade council to overrule Leopold

August 27, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jerry Walker plans to attempt to override several vetoes issued by County Executive John R. Leopold on a rezoning bill for the southern portion of the county.

Leopold vetoed 16 amendments Tuesday to the rezoning bill that sought to allow intensified development in some of the county's most rural areas, including south of Route 214, an unofficial line of demarcation for development. All but one of the vetoes affected South County.

"I was surprised there were so many" vetoes, said Walker, a Republican, who shepherded the bill through the County Council, which passed it unanimously. Five votes on the seven-member council are needed for an override, and each vetoed amendment can be considered separately.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, a Democrat from Annapolis, said he will support Leopold's one veto affecting his district, which will block a business owner from getting industrial zoning, citing strong opposition to the zoning change from residents.

Of the remaining vetoes, Trumbauer said he would support about 10 of them, including some of the most controversial amendments.

Leopold, a Republican, called the amendments in question "flagrant violations" of established county planning principles, and said he acted to protect the area from a likely "domino effect" of future development and the possibility of legal action by community groups and residents challenging the legality of many of the zoning changes.

The battle over rezoning in South County has raged for months with land-use activists, residents, developers and land owners weighing in on proposed changes. The process began this year as part of the county's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning, which tasks the council with considering applications for rezoning land across the county.

Each council member has broad latitude in determining which zoning changes will be approved in his district. Walker introduced many of the controversial amendments, which were opposed by planning officials in the Leopold administration as well as many community groups.

Walker, who has received public criticism for his support of the bill and several controversial amendments — including changes that would allow a car dealership in Edgewater and make way for intensified development in Lothian — said the criticism has been unfair.

"All of these changes total less than 1 percent of the lands in District 7," said Walker, a Gambrills resident. "It needs to be brought in perspective. We're not talking about large tracts of land in South County, which is how it's been portrayed. There weren't any 150-acre parcels that I changed zoning on. They were small parcels of land."

The councilman said he was especially disturbed last week, when his wife received a five-page, handwritten letter in the mail from a District 7 resident chastising Walker for his support of the bill. The letter, according to Walker, called him a "Benedict Arnold" and wished he would "take a swan dive off the Bay Bridge." The letter concluded, "Burn in hell."

Walker said he reported the letter to Anne Arundel County police, whose spokesman Justin Mulcahy had no immediate information about whether police were investigating.

"People are free to disagree with me," said Walker, who was elected to the council last year. "I've sat up there on the dais and listened to people and not argued with folks. They're welcome to come there and disagree with me. But to take it to that level, where it involves my family, is very frustrating and disappointing."

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