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Baltimore Co. Council hears residents' concerns on redistricting

MedicaidLocal GovernmentElections

The Baltimore County Council got an earful Monday night about proposals to adjust council district lines, as Woodlawn area residents opposed plans to take the Social Security Administration headquarters and several thousand residents out of their district, and Loch Hill neighbors said they wanted to stay in the same jurisdiction asTowson.

More than 100 residents turned out for the hour-long public hearing on the proposal approved by the five-member redistricting commission this summer, part of a process to revise the political map under the new U.S. Census to keep the seven council districts roughly equal in population — about 115,000 residents each.

The proposal, now up for council approval, would adjust the line between two west side districts by moving the Woodlawn High School precinct from the 4th District to the 1st. That would leave the 4th — the only district with an African-American majority — without the federal offices housing the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the county's largest employer.

Pat Clark of Randallstown said the change would deprive the district of a "significant economic driver," meaning the federal offices and an Enterprise Zone, where tax breaks are offered as an incentive to attract business. She pointed out that the 1st District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus, already has such a zone under the existing boundaries.

She argued that the proposal does not achieve the chief purpose of redistricting — keeping populations roughly equal in each district. Under the plan, the 4th District would drop from 117,000 residents to 110,000 and the 1st District would rise from 108,000 to 114,000.

Julian Jones of the Woodstock neighborhood of the 4th District said the proposal would split Randallstown and Woodlawn. The two belong together, he said.

"They go together like peanut butter and jelly," he said.

Shirley Supik, who owns the Emmart Pierpont Safe House on North Rolling Road, a county historic landmark built in 1791 that was once a stop for escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad, also opposed the redistricting plan. She said the change would mean that the graves of the safe house's former conductor and the station master would be in different districts.

"We have a really strong community, and as you can see, they care," said Supik. "We're a family, and you don't separate family," she said, getting applause from the crowd.

Fourth District Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver told redistricting commission chairman Ed Crizer — who also testified at the hearing — that he did not consider the proposal "fair and equitable" because it would take so much population away from his district. Oliver said after the meeting that he'll propose an amendment to the plan next month that would give 112,000 residents each to both his district and the 1st, represented by fellow Democrat Tom Quirk of Catonsville.

Quirk asked Crizer how the change would affect the political power of African-Americans. Crizer said he thought the shift could potentially empower black voters by moving more African-Americans into the 1st District, possibly leading to a second minority member of the council

On the east side, many residents of the Loch Hill area are not happy about a plan to shift the line between the 5th District represented by Republican David Marks and the 6th District represented by Democrat Cathy Bevins. The change that involves a portion of the Loch Raven Academy voting precinct would leave Loch Hill outside the 5th, which includes Towson.

"I'm part of Towson," said Loch Hill resident Allysha Lorben. "I shop in Towson, I bike around Towson."

Tony Gross, president of the Loch Hill Community Association, said "we're a small community…we closely ally with Towson."

The council has until the end of the year to decide on the redistricting proposal, but is expected to take the vote in October. The new political map won't take effect until 2014.

The panel Monday night was expected to take up a measure setting new rules for apartments added to a home or garage on as places for relatives to live, but did not. The three sponsors of the measure decided to postpone consideration until next month.

The proposed ordinance would restrict such apartments to immediate family members, setting requirements for bathrooms and kitchens once the relative moves out, or the property is sold.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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