Redistricting Commission proposes changes to County Council boundaries

After spending the summer crunching population numbers and looking at possible boundary lines, the Howard County Redistricting Commission has come up with three County Council district maps to present to the public.

Two of the proposed maps make fairly minor changes to the five council districts, but one makes major shifts on the eastern edge of the county.

"It's a pretty radical change from what we have had over the last 10 or 20 years in terms of the district layout," commission chairman Larry Walker, a Democrat, said of Map 100.

The three proposed maps, labeled Map 100, Map 200 and Map 300, will be posted on the commission's page on the county's website.

The commission will hold a public hearing on the proposals on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. at the George Howard building in Ellicott City. The commission has to submit a redistricting plan to the council by Oct. 15. The council, which has the authority to amend the plan, has to approve a map by March 15 or the commission's plan becomes law.

None of the proposals would move a sitting council member out of his or her district.

"It wasn't necessary, and there was no reason to aggravate somebody," commission member David Marker, a Democrat, said.

Republican commission member Kevin Rodkey agreed: "There's a lot to be said with keeping the continuity. The council members get to know their areas and the neighborhoods get to know their council members."

Council members declined to comment on the proposed changes until the commission submits its final plan.

Map 100 creates a Route 1 corridor district, putting all of the areas that surround Route 1 — North Laurel, Savage, Jessup, Elkridge and Hanover — in District 3. Interstate 95 serves as the proposed boundary for the northern part of the district. The corridor now is in three different districts

Commission members say the map was created in response to a few residents who said at a public hearing in June at the Elkridge library that people in Elkridge have more in common with people who live along the Route 1 corridor than people in Ellicott City, with whom they currently share a district.

"If you look at the issues they've been facing with the Route 1 development … they have more issues in common with people further south" along the corridor, Rodkey said. "Maybe not everyone else in Elkridge agrees with that but at least this map gives them an opportunity to come and talk about it."

Commission member Joan Becker, a Republican, said she hopes Map 100 will spark a lot of interest.

"To me, that's something that's been lacking in the county for a long time is a strong voice for Route 1," she said.

Columbia 'over-represented'

Map 100 also concentrates most of Columbia in Districts 2 and 4, with a small portion of King's Contrivance remaining in District 3, where current council member Jen Terrasa lives.

Because Columbia represents roughly two-fifths of the population, it should only have two council representatives, said Becker, who lives in the western part of the county.

"Columbia is over-represented right now and they have been for a long time," she said.

Though Rodkey said he does not expect Map 100 will be the one the commission presents to the council, he thinks it will spur some discussion about how Route 1 and Columbia are represented on the council.

Map 200 aimed to keep the racial demographics in the districts in proportion with what they are now.

"We have two districts that have a very large percentage of minorities … that allows us the opportunity to get minorities represented, elected," Marker said.

The small shifts in Map 200 involve moving all of District 5 west of Route 29 into District 4 and more of Jessup into District 3, from District 2. The plan also moves the entire Dorsey Hall neighborhood into District 1. Residents from that neighborhood had testified they didn't like their neighborhood being split between Districts 1 and 4.

Keeping neighborhoods together was a goal the commission tried to stick to in all of the maps, Marker said, but "none of them succeed 100 percent because you just can't."

The commission, he explained, has to use permanent geographic boundaries to separate the districts.

"We don't have that scalpel where we can just draw the lines between two neighboring houses," Rodkey added.

Map 300 makes the least changes, leaving District 4 untouched. That map, Walker said, "pretty much takes all of the districts to (a population of) about 57,000, which is about that median number."

According to 2010 census data, which is what the commission used in coming up with its proposals, District 1 has the largest population at 62,435 and District 3 has the smallest at 52,086. Map 300 would make District 5 the largest at 58,806 and District 4 the smallest at 56,391, a much smaller difference.

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