Ulman's veto on growth tiers stands as council takes no action

The Howard County Council decided Monday night not to override County Executive Ken Ulman's first-ever veto, which came on controversial land preservation legislation required by state law.

The council instead took no action on the veto, leaving it stand and allowing the council to continue discussions with Ulman on a new bill.

"I expect us to continue working together on our shared goals of land preservation, environmental sustainability, and supporting farming in Howard County," council member Calvin Ball said.

Council member Greg Fox, the council's lone Republican, motioned to override Ulman's veto, but received no support from the three other members in attendance. Council member Mary Kay Sigaty was absent with the flu.

"For whatever reason they didn't want to be on record for voting," Fox said.

Under state legislation, Howard County is required to define growth tiers designating development levels. They are intended to limit the number of septic systems statewide to preserve the Chesapeake Bay. Levels range from Tier I, the most developed area with public services, to Tier IV, which is zoned for agriculture and conservation.

Ulman, in his sixth year as county executive, vetoed a council bill defining growth tiers on Dec. 13, saying it offered "less protection for the Chesapeake Bay and less protection for farmers."

The council faced a Dec. 31 deadline to implement the plan, but with that date missed, all major development involving septic is stalled until a map is approved.

Some Howard County farmers have argued that designating their property Tier IV will eliminate much of the land's value because they no longer would have the option of selling it for development.

In a letter sent to Ulman on Jan. 4, the council asked him to introduce a legislative and policy package that includes six elements of preservation important to the council.

Those elements include a reduction in septic usage by existing properties and future construction, increased resources for the county's agricultural land preservation program and revisions to the preservation guidelines encouraging more farms to participate.

Ulman responded to the council in a letter Monday, saying his administration already has been working in those areas and that he is "committed to developing a solution which helps us meet our shared goals."

Fox filed a new bill as a "placeholder" with the veto not overridden. His bill includes a map is similar to the council's previously approved map, which designated only already preserved land and three other properties as Tier IV.

Under Fox's proposal, the Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center in Marriottsville, the Shrine of St. Anthony Franciscan Friary in Ellicott City, and the University of Maryland's agricultural research complex in Clarksville will be designated as Tier III instead of Tier IV.

Council member Courtney Watson cast the lone dissenting vote when the council voted 4-1 Dec. 3 to approve a growth tiers map. Watson cited concerns with these three properties being designated as Tier IV in explaining why she voted against the bill.

The council's map had assigned parcels in western Howard County that are currently preserved or designated as priority preservation areas as Tier IV, while designating already developed residential parcels and uncommitted parcels that abut those parcels as Tier III.

The county council will hold a public hearing on Jan. 22 on the proposed map by Fox.

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