As Maryland's secretary of tansportation under Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., former Howard County Del. Robert L. Flanagan was a strong supporter of the idea of building apartments, stores, offices and hotels next to commuter rail stations. What is called a Transit Oriented Development at the MARC train station in Savage, for example, was a big priority.
But now, as a GOP candidate for District 1 of the County Council, covering Ellicott City and Elkridge, Flanagan is actively opposing rezoning for a TOD that includes a free 20-acre school site plus $4 million proposed for 122 acres near the Dorsey MARC station in Elkridge.
A shift of political convenience? Not at all, says Flanagan, who would like to unseat incumbent county councilwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat. Some Elkridge residents such as Cathy Hudson oppose the project as too dense for area schools and roads. They would prefer an office park, which is the developer's Plan B.
"Just because you put the label of 'TOD' on a project doesn't mean it's good," Flanagan said. The Savage proposal would develop a vacant 11-acre parking lot. In Elkridge, developer Preston Partners Inc. wants to build on industrially zoned land across Route 100 from the station. The firm says it has an easement that would allow direct access to the station via a road that runs along the tracks under the highway, though Flanagan suspects that route may be fraught with problems. Preston wants permission for up to 1,400 residences, 1 million square feet of commercial space, a hotel and the school site, which could also be used for recreational fields.
"There's a very real need for industrial and manufacturing property," Flanagan said about the Elkridge site, which was originally to have been a Coca-Cola bottling plant. "If you start eating into existing industrial property, you threaten all industrial property," he said.
The case is before the county zoning board, and as a board member, Watson is legally prohibited from commenting. Hearings on the case are scheduled to continue at least through June, and the board, made up of County Council members, halts consideration of zoning cases in August during election years.
County planners like the Preston proposal, however, arguing that it fits with the General Plan's policy to use existing infrastructure in the eastern county to absorb growth, and to concentrate mixed-use developments around mass-transit stations to increase ridership and reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. School officials also testified April 28 that they welcome the offer of a free school site and cash in the crowded U.S. 1 corridor.
Preston president David F. Scheffenacker Jr. declined to comment on Flanagan's participation in the case, but he said the company can't wait until the next Comprehensive Rezoning of the entire county, because that is still years away.
Hudson said she agrees with Flanagan.
"You don't give up industrial zoning next to a railroad track," she said, although the land has remained vacant for decades, and Coca-Cola, which purchased it in 1992 with county help, has abandoned the bottling plant idea, which led to the land sale to Preston.
It was déjà vu all over again for Dennis R. Schrader, who appeared Wednesday before about 35 other Republicans and supporters at Savage Mills to formally declare himself a candidate for the District 3 County Council seat he held from 1994 to 1998. Democrat Jen Terrasa holds the seat now, and has said she intends to run for re-election.
"It's doable if we work hard," Schrader said he and his wife, former state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, concluded after six months of study and fundraising.
Dennis Schrader took no shots at Terrasa, and said he will "stay focused on what I'm going to do," if he wins. That includes supporting a more robust economy, "no new taxes" for the next few years, helping small businesses and supporting transportation improvements to help ease the Base Realignment and Closure process bringing thousands of new defense jobs to the area around Fort Meade. District 3 covers most of the Southeastern county, including a large chunk of the U.S. 1 corridor.
Schrader, homeland security director during the Ehrlich administration, was eager to scotch one idea, however. Should Ehrlich retake the governorship, Schrader won't join the administration. "When Governor Ehrlich wins, my intention is to serve my [council] term," Schrader said.
The campaign will be an uphill climb. The district is heavily weighted toward Democrats, who redrew the district boundaries to their advantage after the 2000 census. Also, Schrader ran for an open council seat in 1994. He narrowly lost to Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who was on the County Council in 1990. Schrader then unsuccessfully ran for county executive in 1998, losing to State Sen. James N. Robey after a divisive Republican primary.
Both County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Trent Kittleman, celebrated birthdays last week, and both are taking full political advantage. Ulman turned 36 on May 4, and Kittleman turned 65 three days later. They both scheduled campaign fundraisers with live music for May 7. Kittleman's event was to be at Savage Mill and Ulman's at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Ulman said his party was originally to be very small in a friend's home, but the invitation list kept growing.
Kittleman said she has more than just a birthday to celebrate. A grandson, William "Liam" Marshall Reigel, was born April 28, she said, and her daughter Heather, a member of the county Republican Central Committee, was recently engaged. If that's not enough to talk about, she's campaigning on a Segway personal transportation device — using it to go door-to-door in the rural west, where doors are pretty far apart.