County Council unanimously approves funding for Clarksville traffic study

The County Council unanimously approved Monday, Oct. 3 the administration's $600,000 funding request for a Clarksville traffic study with amendments that broaden the study area and preclude the county from placing reservations on nearby business owners' property.

"I was pleased (the council) saw fit to pass those amendments, which is why I agreed to pass this (funding request)," councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, said.

One amendment, submitted by councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, specifies that the administration cannot use the money unless the study includes the Route 108 corridor between Route 32 and Linden Linthicum Lane.

The administration's original proposal said the funding would be used to evaluate connecting Great Star Drive to Auto Drive.

"I believe that we need to study that entire corridor and this amendment would ensure the money is spent for that," Watson said.

Another amendment, submitted by Fox, says that the funding for the traffic study would be null and void if the county places a reservation (essentially a warning the county can issue during the development process noting the property may be needed for public use) on "private property that is located within a 500-foot radius of Great Star Drive or Auto Drive and for which a site development plan was submitted to the county on or before July 22, 2011."

Fox said his amendment was aimed at preventing the administration from placing a reservation on S&W Management's property, which is where the Pizza Hut on Route 108 is currently located. S&W Management submitted a site development plan to the county last year for a small office building behind the Pizza Hut.

"This would at least allow some level of fairness concerning that property," Fox said.

Eminent domain, ethics legislation tabled

At the same meeting, the council tabled a resolution Fox introduced that would amend the county charter to regulate the county's ability to use its power of eminent domain for economic development purposes. Fox said he submitted the charter amendment because he was worried the administration is considering using eminent domain to take land from private business owners to provide access to the former Gateway School site.

Because Fox's resolution involves amending the county charter, it would have to be reaffirmed by voters in the next election. Given the timing, Fox agreed to table the resolution so the Charter Review Commission could weigh in on the issue.

The only council member to vote against tabling the resolution was council chairman Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat. He said he was not convinced the charter amendment solved the issue Fox was trying to address with the legislation.

"Nor did I hear any compelling arguments for the (amendment) overall," Ball said.

The council also tabled a bill that would change the county's ethics law to comply with conflict of interest and financial disclosure requirements in the state's ethics law.

Local jurisdictions throughout Maryland have to change their ethics laws because the State Ethics Commission wants "requirements for local elected officials that are at least as stringent as requirements for state public officials," according to the council bill, which was filed by the administration.

The bill includes some requirements that are more stringent than the state's law and the existing county law, including additional disclosure requirements for members of boards and commissions. Council members worry that the additional requirements could discourage residents from volunteering for boards and commissions and want more time to consider the impact.

"We're still working through some of the details," Ball said.

The council also unanimously passed a resolution, submitted by the administration and co-sponsored by Ball would, that amends the Settlement Downpayment Loan Program, established as a part of the county program that provides financial assistance to qualified home buyers.

Included in the amendments are provisions requiring that applicants' total monthly debt expenses — which in addition to mortgage payments includes other loan and credit card payments — not exceed 45 percent of their monthly income and that the home they are buying be used as their primary residence.

More legislation introduced

The council also introduced new legislation that it will take up this month.

One of the bills would change the grounds on which the Board of Appeals hears its cases. Watson moved that the council withdraw the bill, which was submitted by the administration, upon introduction.

"Essentially this bill would eliminate the cases to be heard by the Board of Appeals as de novo cases, or from scratch," Watson explained. "A change such as this may be appropriate for certain categories of appeals … (but) I believe we and the citizens are well served if the Board of Appeals members are consulted first."

Fox agreed, noting the bill should be in good shape before it comes to the council. When bills aren't well vetted, he said, it affects the legislative process.

"We have public testimony on them and then we have to make lots of changes and then we don't have public testimony on them again," Fox said.

But the other three council members voted against Watson's motion, explaining that they can table the bill if it needs more discussion.

"Why not let the normal process take its course?" Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a Columbia Democrat, said. "We often table bills so we can take advice from all sorts of folks."

Another bill the council introduced was submitted by Ball to close a loophole in the law that prevents police from impounding vehicles if the vehicle has parking tickets associated with it that have been outstanding for more than 90 days.

"A lot of this came from neighborhood concerns about particular vehicles," Ball said, explaining the bill will "allow the police another tool to get their job done."

The council also introduced a resolution to approve the Board of Education's capital budget request for Fiscal Year 2013 so the county can be considered for state school construction funding.

The council will hold a public hearing on all the new legislation Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the George Howard building, in Ellicott City.

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