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Divided council passes altered redistricting plan

The repeated pleas of Wheatfield and Brampton Hills residents to remain in County Council District 1 were answered this week, as the council narrowly passed a redistricting map that leaves the two Ellicott City communities in place.

The new map, which passed the council on a 3-2 vote March 5, rejects the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission's recommendation to move Wheatfield and Brampton Hills from a district that is mostly in Ellicott City and Elkridge to District 2, which spans most of east Columbia and Jessup and includes the southern parts of Ellicott City and Elkridge.

It also keeps the village of Dorsey's Search in District 4 with the other areas of west Columbia, despite the commission's plan to move the village back to District 1.

The map, which defines the council district boundaries for the next decade, must still be signed by County Executive Ken Ulman. If he does not do so by March 15, the map created by the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission will become law.

County spokesman Kevin Enright said Ulman received the bill Tuesday afternoon but he will not comment until he has "had time to fully study what is being proposed."

While the council's map pleased Wheatfield and Brampton Hills residents, it failed to win support of all council members because it moves parts of Elkridge from District 1 to District 2, in the process ignoring requests from residents to not split the eastern Howard community more than it already is.

"It is impossible for me to vote for a map that satisfies two areas of concerns at the expense of another area, particularly one that falls in my district," said council member Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat who voted against the map..

Greater Elkridge Community Association President Howard Johnson said the residents being affected are "core properties" that have been a part of Elkridge and District 1 for a long time.

"I'm not sure that those areas want to be associated with District 2," he said, explaining that they don't have much in common with east Columbia.

Elkridge resident Cathy Hudson said that by moving the community to a new district "you lose commonalities, shared issues and resources."

Fox: 'Good compromise'

Council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia Democrat, came up with the map, which is an amended version of the commission's plan. Council members Jen Terrasa, a Columbia Democrat, and Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, supported Sigaty's plan.

Fox said he had concerns about the map but it was "a good compromise.

"I don't think we have a perfect map out there," he said. "We can't address everything. This is as close as we're going to get."

Fox had criticized the commission's plan as a ploy to make District 1, traditionally a swing district, safer for Democrats. He said the council's map "definitely helps the Democrats, but it's not doing so as much at the expense of the community as the commission's map."

Under the commission's plan, supported by the panel's four Democrats but opposed by its three Republicans, Wheatfield and Brampton Hills would have been moved to District 2. That prospect was hotly opposed by residents of those two Ellicott City neighborhoods, who showed up in droves at the two council public hearings and sent several e-mails to council members objecting to the proposed move.

Wheatfield resident Debbie Bures-Walker, who organized much of the community's opposition, said she believed their protests helped sway the council vote.

"We had some hurdles to overcome," she said. . "But our neighborhood is a neighborhood that turns out and gets involved."

Given that Ulman still has to sign off on the bill, she said: "I'm cautiously optimistic about what may happen for our community."

The commission had also proposed moving the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search from District 4 to District 1. The Dorsey's Search Village Board sent a letter to the council in December requesting to remain in District 4 because it "fits best with our village identity."

Interviewed after the council's decision, board chairman Dan Woodruff said the village would have been happy in either District 4 or District 1.

"Our first and overall concern was that Dorsey's Search be kept together," he said.

But Woodruff added: "We're thrilled to be in District 4. Mary Kay has served the community very well. ... I think we have more in relationship with District 4 just because that's the rest of Columbia."

Before passing Sigaty's plan, the council rejected maps created by Fox, Terrasa and Watson. Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat, was the only council member who did not come up with an amendment to the commission's plan.

Ball, like Watson, voted against Sigaty's map.

He said if the council was not going to pass the commission's plan, which he called "a reasonable map that met the various goals," he didn't feel comfortable supporting an amendment that didn't address the needs of all communities.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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