Republican county executive candidate Allan Kittleman had strong words for Howard County's Department of Planning and Zoning Monday night at a town hall in Glenwood.
In what would become a theme throughout the night, Kittleman, a state senator from West Friendship, first broached the topic while answering a question about mulching on preserved farmland in the county, a practice he says he opposes when it's done on a large scale.
"I don't think industrial mulching is a proper use on a preserved farm," he told the audience of about two dozen people gathered at the Glenwood Library, but, "I think this is a bigger issue than just that. ... Here, we have a problem with the Department of Planning and Zoning. Here, we have a situation where the leadership of the county has allowed the Department of Planning and Zoning to be controlled by a few people."
Kittleman declined to elaborate on who he thought had undue influence over DPZ, although he said he thinks "the community knows who I'm talking about."
Members of the Howard County Citizens Association and the Citizens Working to Fix Howard County, as well as individual residents, have alleged in recent months that the county administration has a cozy relationship with local developers and their attorneys.
Kittleman linked criticism of the planning and zoning department not only to the mulching debate, but also to a citizen-led comprehensive zoning petition effort that as of Tuesday was still awaiting a final judgment by the Court of Special Appeals.
Both issues, which sprung from last summer's blockbuster comprehensive zoning legislation, indicate a need to allot more time to the once-a-decade process, he said.
"We need to make that process better," he said. "Maybe we need to divide it in half."
"In any large bill, whether it's the downtown redevelopment plan or the comprehensive rezoning plan, there are always things that need to be refined at a later date," Kittleman's opponent, County Council member Courtney Watson, responded Tuesday.
"When we passed the bill, in the timeframe we're required to pass it, we did say if anything in the bill had unintended consequences we were not aware of that we would revisit it, and that's what we did," she said of the mulching bill.
As for Kittleman's harsh words for DPZ, she said, "General, non-specific criticism of hardworking county employees is hard to respond to without specifics."
On his home turf — Glenwood is part of Kittleman's Senate district, a dependably conservative swath of the county that voted in the incumbent senator by a two-to-one margin in 2010 — the county executive candidate said his top three concerns are property rights in the western county, the so-called rain tax and the comprehensive zoning petition effort.
He also fielded questions on some topics that have been seldom discussed so far this campaign cycle.
Some audience members said they were concerned about voter fraud. Kittleman, who called voting a "sacred right," said he thinks requiring voters to show ID at the polls wouldn't be a bad idea "as long as you can make sure that everyone has access to a free ID."
Questioned on his position on gun rights, Kittleman said he supported requiring gun buyers to show ID, but voted against the General Assembly's Firearm Safety Act of 2013 because he felt it went too far in its restrictions, which included a ban on 45 kinds of assault weapons.
"I think we have strong, commonsense [gun] laws in Maryland; I support those," he said.
Kittleman closed the town hall with a promise that he would hold more if he's elected.
"Too many times, people get to this ivory tower and want to stay there, and I am not like that," he said. "I believe elections have consequences."