Mixed reaction for Route 1 corridor council district plan

The idea of a single County Council district that spans the entire Route 1 corridor received a mixed reaction from residents who testified at the Councilmanic Redistricting Commission hearing Wednesday, Sept. 21.

"I know to some people the Route 1 corridor has been considered a blight on the county," Ellicott City resident Neal Jarvis said. "Having one person represent that (corridor), I actually think would be a benefit for the county, so that you have one strong voice instead of three whispers."

But Steven Hunt, of North Laurel, said that Route 1 now has "three strong voices on the council, all of whom are very responsive." He said he is concerned about the pressure a single district for Route 1 would put on the district's representative.

"Route 1 is not one and the same," Hunt said. "Elkridge and North Laurel are radically different."

The Route 1 corridor district appears in one of the three proposals the redistricting commission presented at the hearing for redrawing the lines for the five council districts. In comparison to that plan, Map 100, the other two plans, Map 200 and Map 300, make only minor changes to the council districts as they exist today.

The commission will use the input from the hearing to come up with a final plan to present to the council by Oct. 15. The council then has until March 15, 2012 to approve a plan.

At the hearing, Woodbine resident Theodore Mariani said Howard County has five distinct regions: east Columbia, west Columbia, Ellicott City, Route 1 and the west. The west has benefited from having one strong voice on the council, Mariani said, and so would the Route 1 corridor.

"We've enjoyed in the west having that voice," he said. "I think they deserve it as well."

But Hanover resident Gail Sigel said having one person to vote for Route 1's interest instead of three does not make sense.

"You will have more representation by dividing (Route 1) the way it is now to support what goes on there," she said. "We've had a lot of support and a lot of voice for what we want in Route 1."

Elkridge and Hanover, Sigel added, have more in common with Ellicott City than with North Laurel and Savage.

Other concerns

The Route 1 corridor district was not the only topic discussed at the hearing. Many residents whose neighborhoods could be moved to a new district came out to speak.

"Two of the three map proposals that we've seen has our area moving to District 2 from District 1," said John Mariano, who lives in the Brampton Hills neighborhood of Ellicott City. "We chose to move into that district. … We did not chose to move into an area associated with east Columbia."

Mariano and Jarvis, who also lives in the Brampton Hills neighborhood, said their community's concerns align better with those of other people who live in District 1.

That same point was raised by Ellicott City resident Steve Walker, whose Wheatfield neighborhood would be moved into District 2 in two of the plans. He came to the hearing with about a dozen of his Wheatfield neighbors, all wearing red.

For other communities, such as the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search, the concern was not about moving districts but about remaining in a single district.

In an effort to put the entire St. Johns community in the same district, Map 200 splits the village of Dorsey's Search between Districts 4 and 1. But St. Johns Community Association President Diane Butler, who previously requested her community be in one district, said having the 12 homes from St. Johns moved from District 4 to District 1 is not worth splitting Dorsey's Search.

Dan Woodruff, chairman of the Dorsey's Search Community Association, agreed.

"We are greatly concerned that any redistricting plan would take such a small community and split it between two districts," he said, noting Dorsey's Search. "Even if there was some movement, we would prefer that the entire village be represented by one council person."

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a former member of the Columbia Association board of directors, said Columbia villages should all be kept whole because they have common interests. Atkinson-Stewart lives in Owen Brown, a village that is currently split between Districts 2 and 3,

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