County with growing pains requires leadership [Letter]

Howard County Times

In the past month, I've attended two community meetings where passionate citizens explained how they donated their time and their expertise to the local democratic process only to discover that special interests control the debate.

Two different issues, one similar outcome: Those who will benefit financially write favorable county legislation sponsored by the county executive with no regard to the effect on residents.

Four years ago, residents in Dayton Oaks successfully lobbied for a halt to commercial mulching operations on a farm within a rural residential area. Industrial mulching is a known fire hazard, contaminates air and water and requires large truck shipments that are unsafe on narrow country lanes.

Being a campaign year, then-candidate Allan Kittleman sided with residents. After the election, County Executive Kittleman formed a task force composed primarily of industrial mulchers and a few concerned citizens whose voices were sidelined.

The final recommendations resulted in Council Bill 60, which enables industrial mulching, typically only zoned for manufacturing areas (M1 and M2), on all farmland, including agricultural preserve land in rural residential areas. The bill requires permits as well as safety and environmental considerations but factory mulching is a poorly regulated industry and protections on paper carry little weight. Special interest has partnered with County Executive Kittleman to masquerade as a farming activity and gain access to low-cost agricultural preserve land at the expense of residents' health and safety.

A similar collaboration between the county executive and special interest occurred on the review of Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), which controls growth in respect to roads and schools.

In 2014, concerned citizens demanded solutions for overcrowded schools, candidates made promises, and after the election a task force was formed. Land developers who wanted little to no impediments to making a profit held majority control of the group and the resulting Council Bill 61 and CB 62 benefits them directly. These two bills and the [county school systems's] concurrent redistricting proposal will result in nearly all school districts being open to new development, leading to near-term capacity issues countywide.

If our county executive put residents first, the APFO school test would close schools to development at 100 percent capacity and increase mitigation fees to take on the full cost of constructing new schools.

All three of these bills lack the leadership that a county with serious growing pains needs. Business interests can prosper in this county but not at the expense of our health and safety, the education of our children, or our quality of life.

China Williams

Ellicott City

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