Growth Gridlock in Howard


Howard County, among the most vocal opponents of statewide growth controls, continues to make the best case for uniformity. Back in October, a stymied county council passed the job of coming up with a workable adequate facilities ordinance onto the newly sworn-in council members. The incentive for the new council to do something is an unpopular cap on building permits that remains in place until the council comes up with a plan forcing builders to help shoulder infrastructure costs in areas plagued by overcrowded schools and traffic gridlock.

Now the Ecker administration wants to lift the ban, even though no progress has been made on adequate facilities legislation. With the economy slowing, it says, there's no need for such a cap. Because comprehensive rezoning has also fallen behind schedule, the county says it wants to extend the ban on residential rezoning and subdivisions in the rural western portion of the county.

Yet Howard officials balked at recent proposals advanced by thGovernor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region. County Executive Charles Ecker -- who won election largely due to voter dissatisfaction over his predecessor's indecisiveness on growth controls -- says the plan would take growth management out of the hands of the localities. Among his concerns is a proposal that would change zoning in the county's environmentally sensitive western end from one home in 5 acres to one in 20 acres.

The fact that Howard has been unable to move beyond growth gridlock, however, makes an excellent case for state oversight of land-use management. Granted, the economy has soured, slowing the demand from developers. But Howard has been long troubled by an inability to deal effectively with growth issues. Its adequate public facilities legislation fell through the cracks because the council and executive couldn't come up with a workable bill. The new council is no closer to a solution than was the old council. Comprehensive residential rezoning, another potentially explosive issue, won't be accomplished soon, either. When local zoning and planning leaders drop the ball, it is time for someone else has to pick it up.

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