Circuit Court denies Howard referendum petition

Supporters of an effort to have parts of Howard County's recently passed comprehensive zoning bill sent to  referendum this November faced a setback last week.

A Circuit Court judge affirmed a decision by the county Board of Elections to deny a petition the group had circulated.

In his May 28 decision, Judge John H. Tisdale wrote that the Board of Elections “was correct in its assessment” that a summary of the legislation the petitioners wanted to repeal was not “fair and accurate,” the standard required for approval.

Although he acknowledged that the petitioners were “faced with the challenge of meeting the standard while condensing the ordinance provisions onto one page,” Tisdale took issue with several items on the petition under the header “Other.”

“Taken as a whole,” Tisdale wrote, “the attempt to summarize the portions of the Ordinance for the referendum fall well short of the fair and accurate standard. Although many signers may have been motivated to effect changes in zoning of the first six parcels, there is no way to know how many were moved by the expectation that the vote might deny a conditional use to a funeral home or by the fear that human waste will be introduced in certain properties or the hope that farm buildings would not be allowed on residential properties.”

Lisa Markovitz, a leader of the referendum effort and one of the parties in the case, said the group had filed an appeal of Tisdale's decision. An expedited appeals process is expected so a final decision can be rendered in time for the August deadline for referendum questions to be approved for the ballot.

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