What a lovely spot for a veto.
Clark's Farm in Ellicott City spreads out on 540 acres along Route 108, where cattle roam the pastures and where Humpty Dumpty, Willie the Whale, Little Red Riding Hood and other characters from the old Enchanted Forest theme park have found second homes.
It's also the former home of the late state Sen. James Clark Jr., the father of Maryland's agricultural land preservation program.
County Executive Ken Ulman chose the location this month to spike a piece of County Council legislation dealing with development rights on rural property — such as Clark's Farm, which has been in preservation since the 1980s. He spoke before an audience of farmers, state and local officials and preservationists, his back to a pasture and a modest memorial stone to Clark and his wife, Lillian, inscribed with the motto, "Never Sell the Land."
Sitting at a desk near the white 19th-century farmhouse, he signed the first veto since he became county executive. He wasn't about to just do it in his office.
The question is: Now what?
Since the veto of the bill adopted on Dec. 3, Ulman said he's talked briefly with some council members he's run into at events but not held expansive discussions.
"I anticipate soon after the first of the year, we'll move ahead with a strategy" to find common ground, Ulman said last week, referring to himself and the council.
The council's vote had gone 4-1 for an amended bill — rather than the one proposed by the Department of Planning and Zoning and supported by the Democrat Ulman.
It was a bipartisan vote, with the council's only Republican, Greg Fox, joining Democrats Calvin Ball, Jennifer Terrasa and Mary Kay Sigaty in favor of the amended version. Courtney Watson voted against it.
But to make his veto stick, Ulman needs at least two votes when the council votes again on the issue on Jan. 7. The same 4-1 vote would override his veto; a 3-2 vote would not.
The panel must vote yes or no on the veto override that night and cannot table the issue, said Stephen LeGendre, council administrator.
"I'm willing to listen, but so far I haven't heard anything," said Fox regarding more dialogue on the bill. "The four of us that voted for it have not heard from the county executive."
Ball said he knows the executive is "hopeful he might be able to work with the council," but went no further. Terrasa and Sigaty declined to return phone messages seeking comment for this story.
The two sides are wrestling with competing approaches to land preservation. Those on each side argue that their way makes the most sense.
The argument is going on under the requirements of a state law adopted this year that's meant to curb the proliferation of septic systems and preserve rural land.
Under the law, counties need to designate areas for four different types of development, from the most intensely built areas served by public water and sewer services to rural conservation land under the tightest development restrictions.
The conservation district, called Tier IV, is where the state law says only "minor subdivisions" will be allowed. In Howard, that means four lots or fewer.
Ulman's bill would have designated as Tier IV the county's rural conservation zone, about 62,000 acres. If you own 100 acres there, under current zoning you could develop 23 lots, one for every 4.25 acres. Under Ulman's bill, you could develop four lots regardless of how big the property is.
Fewer lots, less value. The proposal created an uproar this fall.