Two council bills could be headed for the ballot

Citizens hoping to get a zoning referendum question on the ballot this November are not the only ones facing down an August deadline.

Council member Greg Fox, a Republican from Fulton, is trying to get two ballot questions to the Board of Elections by the end of this month.

Fox has introduced two bills that would amend the county charter, a process that must be approved by Howard voters. If the council passes his legislation at a voting session later this month, the two issues will move to the Board of Elections for ballot approval.

The first of Fox's two bills would amend the county's budgetary process, requiring the council to create by-law procedures for approving changes to capital projects in the county budget after it has been adopted.

The second would allow the council to expand the lifespan of a bill by allowing two 30-day extensions for legislation beyond its normal 65-day expiration date without a vote.

Fox said both issues had support from the county's charter review commission in 2011 but didn't make it onto the ballot during the 2012 general election.

Fox said he thought both would be "relatively noncontroversial."

Eminent domain

More controversial, perhaps, is another proposal by Fox related to eminent domain, which has also resurfaced after three years.

This time around, the councilman is attempting to change the county's laws on eminent domain, or the taking of private property by the government for the public good, through the legislative process rather than by amending the charter.

Fox's bill would prohibit eminent domain "for the purpose of acquiring property for economic development or for the transfer of private property to a private entity for the benefit of that private entity." It would also require the council to hold a public hearing to explore the reasons for taking the property.

The issue has roots in a 2011 dispute involving the site of the old Gateway school in Clarksville. At the time, many Clarksville residents believed the county was considering taking privately owned land by eminent domain in order to build an access road for a new development on the site.

The council passed the issue to the county's Charter Review Commission, which voted 7-5 not to recommend a charter amendment on eminent domain. Several commission members argued eminent domain rules should be changed in the county code instead of the charter, which is what Fox is now attempting to do.

Steve Kendall, who owns Kendall Hardware on Clarksville Pike and was involved in the 2011 eminent domain dispute, testified in support of Fox's bill on July 21.

"We should never feel like we need to hire lawyers to back us up and cover our own private interests as a land owner," he told the council. "I'm very excited to continue doing business in Clarksville as a private landowner with my rights."

Electric cars

Another bill before the council this month has the potential to make life easier for Howard Countians who drive electric cars.

The legislation, introduced by Jen Terrasa, would prohibit non-electric cars from parking in spaces designated as recharging stations, which would be labeled with signs similar to those used for handicapped spaces.

Mark Czajka, leader of MD Volt, a group of electric car enthusiasts, said the legislation would "not only be positive for owners of plug in electric vehicles, but will also help county residents be more aware of what these spaces are used for.

"A little signage, psychologically, goes a long way," concurred Scott Wilson, who serves on the Maryland Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council and drives a Nissan Leaf.

The council will have its first opportunity to vote on all four bills on July 25.

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