Saying his job is to "listen to my constituents," 5th District County Council member David Marks said this week he will seek changes after hearing from residents who object to the boundaries suggested for the proposed 5th and 6th districts.
The new boundaries proposed for the council's 5th District — which currently includes Towson, but could see some precincts in the Loch Hill and Glendale-Glenmont area trimmed away — continue to raise the hackles of some residents and community organizations.
The latest dispute focuses on the 160-acre Country Club of Maryland, and the possibility it may be part of the area moved from the 5th District to the 6th District.
The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations is "vehemently opposed to such a shift taking place," according to a letter that its president, David Kosak, wrote to 5th District Councilman David Marks.
"It is vital that the interests of Towson be represented by one councilperson, especially on our eastern border where neighborhoods have struggled to stay viable."
By law, Baltimore County has to redraw its seven councilmanic districts every 10 years to keep up with the changing census. A committee formed by the council held hearings over the summer and crafted a proposal for the new lines.
The County Council is scheduled to vote Oct. 3 on new boundaries, which become effective in time for the next elections in 2014.
A council work session on the redistricting plan is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 2 p.m. in the Council Chambers, in the Old Towson Courthouse, 400 Washington Ave., Towson.
When it comes to the depiction of the proposed new 5th District, which includes Towson and Kingsville and everything in between, one relatively tiny line just east of Towson has been controversial enough to break the pencil point — or at least wear it down.
Loch Hill residents testified at one of the hearings that they fear putting them in the 6th District would be the first step in alienating them from the Towson area, with which they are closely identified.
Neighbors from another district?
Kosak zeroed in on the country club, pointing out it is bordered by Stoneleigh, Fellowship Forest, Wiltondale and Knollwood-Donnybrook — all areas that would stay in the 5th District according to the current proposal — and, "in the past, has been the subject of redevelopment plans."
In April 2005, the members-owned club sought to build 56 houses on 16 acres of its land. It took an "unbelievable amount of effort on the part of community representatives, the golf course board and the county" to agree to an alternative plan that everybody could live with, said then-5th District Councilman Vince Gardina. He called the process "brutal."
In 2006, the club agreed to build only 36 duplex houses on 12 acres, and exempt about 56 acres from ever being developed.
The club has had the county's seal of approval since then, but has not proceeded with the project because of the lagging economy.
What concerns surrounding neighborhoods is that the club might request a change of zoning that would allow different or a more dense development.
If the club was put in the 6th District, the club would be represented by one council member — while neighborhoods impacted by any changes would be represented by another.
"A future 6th District councilperson could make an adverse decision regarding this property with no accountability to the neighborhoods or voters it would directly affect," Kosak said.
Idlewylde is also concerned, said Cynthia Jabs, who serves on the board of the Idlewylde Community Association.
"This makes no sense," Jabs said. "It is gerrymandering of the worst sort.
"It's a really terrible idea to put the Country Club of Maryland in a different district from its neighbors. It's an even worse idea to take Loch Hill out of the district in order to do this," she said. "Loch Hill is a Towson neighborhood with kids in Towson schools and adults who actively participate in Towson's affairs.
"This plan would leave our neighborhood and just one other precinct sandwiched in between three separate districts. The county seat deserves better."
Club wants to stay in 5th, Marks says he'll try
The country club itself would prefer to remain in the 5th District, according to general manager Dick Celeste.
"The vast majority of our members live in District 5 or District 3," he said. "We are basically a Towson business. We're active in the Towson Chamber of Commerce and have a close relationship with Towson University."
Marks has heard the hue and cry, he said.
His position now is to keep the country club and Loch Hill in the 5th District as well as some of Glendale-Glenmont, even though it will mean splitting the precinct that votes at Loch Raven Academy.
"I have to say that some council members don't want to open that can of worms," he said, noting the there is some cost associated with splitting precincts — new voters cards, poll workers and election judges.
"But my job is to listen to my constituents," Marks said. "That eastern part of Towson wants to remain in the district, and I am doing my best to accommodate them.
"This may include an area I didn't win in the last election, but it's the right thing to do," he said.