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The Baltimore Sun

County Council hears concerns over redistricting plan

In a public hearing following the Baltimore County Council meeting Monday night, nearly 30 voices of dissent were heard by the council as residents of the Woodlawn and Loch Hill neighborhoods opposed the plan put forth by the council's redistricting commission.

Under the plan, Woodlawn would move from the 4th District to the 1st District, and the Loch Hill community, in the eastern part of Towson, would leave the 5th District to become a part of 6th District.

The move would also leave the 4th District as the smallest in the county, while the 5th District, with more than 120,000 residents, would be the largest.

Eight residents of Loch Hill's 140-household community spoke on behalf of their interests during the Aug. 1 session. They stressed the community involvement that they have with adjacent neighborhoods in Towson that will be weakened in a move to the 6th District.

The residents contended that their schools, jobs, friends and youth sportslay within the Towson community, and that they deserve to have their interests represented by a councilman, in this case David Marks, who represents Towson.

That desire to be a part of a community was a common thread among the dozens of speakers who spoke Monday night. To the east of Loch Hill is Loch Raven Boulevard and Mt. Pleasant Golf Course — an area that Loch Hill residents believe is impossible to bond with because of the lack of neighborhoods.

The community aspect was just one of many contentions Woodlawn residents had with their proposed shift away from Councilman Kenneth Oliver's 4th District. On top of splitting the Woodlawn and Randallstown communities, which one speaker said belong together like peanut butter and jelly, the move also takes a valuable business zone out of the 4th District.

The change in district size also could influence how affected council members vote on the redistricting.

"I think Loch Hill is a wonderful neighborhood and I would have no problem continuing to represent it," Marks said. "The problem is under the proposal, I'll already have the largest council district. I'll have to talk to my colleagues and see if there's any give and take on the issue."

Conversely, Oliver sees the move as taking a chunk out of his base.

"This is taking away almost 8,000 votes," Oliver said.

Still, he believes that the people of Woodlawn made it clear how they felt.

"I think they want to make sure they aren't transferred into another district," Oliver said. "I've made an addendum to the recommendations of the redistricting commission. I'm sure this will have an affect on how people see this going forward."

Council votes to move forward with Security Boulevard extension

Also on Monday, the council voted to proceed with the purchase of 4.5 acres that will be used for the extension of Security Boulevard.

The issue became contentious after council members complained that the plan was sprung on them by county administrators at last week's work session.

On an issue of land condemnation, council members are required only to vote on whether the land would be used for the greater public interest. As a road improvement that could alleviate some traffic, the proposed road extension qualifies.

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District and voted against the bill, said he was hesitant to give the county a blank check.

After passage through the council, the Security Boulevard case will go to the courts, which will determine how much will be paid for the property.

Any land condemnation case more than $25,000 must go before the council, but it's how much over that amount that had Quirk concerned.

He said he felt a responsibility to the taxpayers and wanted to know more before handing over a blank check that, according to one appraisal , could end up being filled out for more than $1 million.

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the 6th District, was the other vote against the condemnation on the grounds. She was also concerned about not knowing what it would cost county taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the council tabled a bill that formally allows for in-law apartments within existing single-family dwellings. Though they have been allowed under certain circumstances in the past, there are no existing provisions regarding in-law apartments in the County Code or Zoning Regulations.

A revised bill on the matter was introduced at Monday's meeting and will be voted on at the September meeting.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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