Thomas Burick was the first to sign his name to the petition. His next-door neighbor, Michael Phillips, followed, and then Gordon Sickels, who lives one house over.
Burick and his wife, Rosalie Consiglio, have lived on Coon Hunt Court for 12 years; Phillips and his wife, Heather Dorst, 19 years; Sickels and his wife, Shirley, about 24. Now, with those three signatures, residents there are halfway to getting their street name changed.
"It's the most racist thing," Burick said Feb. 5, shortly after inking his signature. "When I hear it, I think of lynching."
The movement to change the name of Coon Hunt Court, a small cul-de-sac in the Oakland Mills neighborhood of Thunder Hill, is being led by County Council member Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat who also lives in Oakland Mills.
Ball and his special assistant, Kimberly Pruim, went door-to-door Sunday afternoon. Renaming a street in Howard County requires approval from 90 percent of its households. With six homes on Coon Hunt Court, the support must be unanimous. No one answered the door at the other three houses. Ball is looking into whether copies of the petition can be mailed out.
This isn't the first effort to change Coon Hunt Court. Some residents complained in1969, but the name remained. Street names in Thunder Hill come from the titles of paintings by Andrew Wyeth. The artist had a piece called "Raccoon," which led to the nearby "Raccoon Court." There was no "Coon Hunt," though. Rather, there was a piece entitled "The Coot Hunter," named for a type of bird found in Maine.
The word "coon" has been widely used as a derogatory term for "black person" since 1837, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. In recent years, residents of Coon Hunt Court have seen their street sign disappear many times.
Ball and Pruim have offered several alternative street names, all based on Wyeth paintings: "Christina's Court," "Bells on Her Toes Drive," "Sunday Times Circle," "Carry Court," "Leaving Lane," "Night Sleeper Court" and "Wolf Moon Way."
Dorst looked over the list. "Bells on Her Toes Drive? No," she said. "Night Sleeper Court?" Huh."
She and Phillips liked "Wolf Moon Way" much better. So did Gordon Sickels.
"That's my personal preference," Ball said afterward. "But I don't want to intrude on the process."
The process is just beginning. If Ball gets the six signatures, he must then file an application with the county. A hearing would be held before the Planning Board. The application must suggest at least three new names. The Planning Board makes the final choice after consulting with other area agencies to avoid duplicating road names.
The second and third choices so far are "Night Sleeper Court" and "Sunday Times Circle." A survey might be sent out to Oakland Mills residents, Ball said.
Changing the street name comes at a price.
The cost of the hearing and certified letters to each homeowner is $290, due at the time of the application, Ball said.
Other costs associated with the process include approximately $250 for a new street sign; the price for advertising in two local newspapers ahead of the Planning Board hearing ($20 to $25 in the Howard County Times); and up to $2,500 for replacing the legal drawings of the subdivision. Pruim believes that fee could be avoided by simply replacing the street name on the legal drawings, rather than replace the entire documents.
It is not clear who would pay for the changes. The Oakland Mills Village Board was scheduled to discuss whether to contribute to those costs at its Feb. 7 meeting.