Erin McKelvey enjoys the open space of Dayton, a small western Howard County town with rolling hills and cattle farms. Disparaging remarks about country life don't bother her.
"I'm perfectly satisfied," McKelvey says. "My friends say I live in the boondocks. And I say, 'Damn straight.' "
McKelvey was among 300 people who attended a public hearing at Glenelg High School on Wednesday to oppose plans to radically restructure land development in western Howard County.
Residents of such small towns as Lisbon, West Friendship and Clarksville urged a county-appointed commission on rural land use to reject proposals to channel development into villages or small, clustered areas.
The hearing marked the resurgence of the county's anti-growth movement. It was the largest gathering of people opposing development here since discussions last year on the county's revised General Plan.
A commission, which will recommend to the County Council how growth should occur in western Howard, presented various plans to cluster new homes in concentrated areas or villages while preserving most of the land for open space and farmland.
The plan would limit development to one house for every five acres of land in the county's western half.
But most homeowners gave the plan a rude reception during the often raucous hearing. Residents shouted from the audience at commission members and some of those who gave testimony attacked the credibility of the panel and of county government in general.
Most of them demanded that the area remained zoned for three-acre lots.
Tom Horvath, president of the Western Howard County Residents Association, charged that the concept of concentrating development into villages and clusters was being pushed by farmers and builders.
He said the plan would worsen a ground-water contamination problem that already exists in pockets of western Howard. The area does not have county water and sewer service.
"We've got kids in Lisbon drinking bottled water," said Horvath, suggesting that people fear that ground water may be contaminated.
Paul Serafinas, also of Lisbon, said he feared clusters would lead to more shopping centers, commercial development and crime.
"The reason we moved to Howard County -- or to the western end -- was to escape the congestion of Columbia," Serafinas said.
The audience also expressed fear that the land designated as open space eventually would be developed.
Former Councilwoman Angela Beltram, who proposed the rural land use study as a council member, said during her testimony before the panel that clustering would decrease overall housing density.
"Clustering is not a dirty word," she said.
And, Ridgely Jones, a long-time county farmer, said he was displeased that the audience was rude to the commission. He said he always has supported three-acre zoning, "long before a lot of these people ever hit Howard County."
But, Jones added, "if there is something better than three-acre zoning that will save agricultural land and still not run away with growth, I'll be glad to hear about it."