Eminent domain, ethics bills tabled by Howard Council

After several hearings and hours of public testimony, the Howard County Council tabled a resolution Monday that would weaken the county's ability to seize private property.

Instead, the measure to limit the county's ability to use eminent domain will go before the charter review commission, the 15-member panel that is required to review the county's charter every eight years. The commission will make recommendations to the council.

Councilman Greg Fox introduced the resolution in response to a continuing dispute in Clarksville, where several business owners feared the county would use eminent domain to build a road parallel to Route 108 to create access for a county-owned property. A mixed-use development, which included a hotel, offices and stores, was slated for the former Gateway school site, before the developer backed out in July.

The council did approve transferring $600,000 to study traffic in Clarksville. The measure includes an amendment prohibiting the county from placing a reservation on the businesses located between Auto and Great Start drives. A reservation can be imposed on a property if the county is considering using the land for a road or a school.

The amendment is in response to complaints from S&W Management, the owners of the Clarksville Pizza Hut, who complained that they could not continue with a proposed development behind the restaurant because of the county reservations. The amendment would lift the reservations while the county completes a study to see whether a road is needed and what properties would be affected.

Fox said he hoped the amendment would "allow some level of fairness on this property."

The council also approved an amendment that defines the $600,000 study area to include Route 108 between Route 32 and Linden Linthicum Lane.

Council members also tabled a bill that would align county ethics laws with measures imposed by the General Assembly, after Councilwoman Courtney Watson raised concerns over stringent requirements for volunteers serving on county boards.

Under the proposed guidelines from the administration of County Executive Ken Ulman, volunteers serving on boards would all face the same scrutiny as elected county officials.

Watson said there are 38 boards and commissions in the county and that the council would like to study each groups' duties to decide what panels should face greater scrutiny.


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