An ad-hoc citizens' commission that was pilloried at a public hearing two weeks ago for suggesting alternatives to the current zoning in western Howard County voted Wednesday to drop one of the alternativesfrom its recommendation to the County Council.
The Rural Land UseStudy Commission voted, 4-3, to recommend that the county not develop small villages in rural areas as a means of saving land.
The commission unanimously endorsed "in principle" two other alternatives to three-acre zoning -- clustered developments and hamlets. The commission also voted, 5-2, not to have a second hearing.
Representatives of a year-old citizens' group on Friday presented councilmember Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, a petition with 1,200 signatures "demanding" the commission set more hearings and extend the June 24 deadline for citizen comment.
Sandra R. Kenney, president of the Western Howard County Preservation Association, told Feaga the petitionerswant "absolute assurance" that open space will be preserved. They also want further study of water and sewage treatment schemes and of the availability of ground water, she said. Kenney called the commission's water and sewer proposals "abominable."
Feaga, a farmer who represents the rural western portion of the county, was told that localgovernment must pay more attention to helping farmers in order to avoid the selling of farmland to developers.
The petitioners also want three-acre zoning to continue, said Kenney, adding that developersare the only people pushing for high density.
But Feaga said he would present the petition to council when the commission submits its report.
While Feaga said he respects "petitionslike this" and would have preferred one more hearing, he does not believe he should be "looking over the commission's shoulder."
Commission Chairman Ted Mariani on Friday said he had not heard of the petition, but it would be up to the council to address.
Mariani was one of two people on the commission to vote for additional hearings. He said the commission would give "a lot of consideration" to whatever the council sees fit. Unless the council suggests a change, the commission will stick toits June 24 deadline for receiving written testimony about its proposals and will forward its report to the council the first week in July.
The village concept explored by the commission called for creation of four to six western Howard County villages of 200 to 400 unitsand a minimum of 50 percent open space.
Commission member Bruce Brendel, one of the four who opposed recommending the village idea, said he "probably" would have voted for it if he knew where such a village would be located.
Although the commission is not recommending villages in its July report to the council, it will pass along its findings about them.
Citizen activist John W. Taylor, president of acitizens' lobby opposed to the commission's recommendations, says the unanimous endorsement of clustering and hamlets before the commission's June 24 deadline "makes it pretty evident that their minds were made up all along."
"Waiting for the file to close (June 24) is perfunctory," he said. "They're talking out of both sides of their mouths. Their agenda is pretty clear."
The commission will recommend that clustered developments, which are required in some rural areas inthe 1990 GeneralPlan, be mandatory for parcels over 20 acres.
Theclusters would be developed at a density of one unit per five acres with a minimum of 70 percent open space. Hamlets would be formed by clustering six to 50 homes together. A minimum of 80 percent open space would be required.
Commission members, who were appointed by thecouncil in January to formulate and recommend clustering schemes, presented their work to an angry crowd of about 300 people June 5.
Taylor's organization, Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, distributed anti-commission fliers to about 1,800 residents three days before the hearing, inviting residents to attend the June 5 hearing and oppose the commission's ideas.
Most in attendance did. They said they wanted no change in the three-acre zoning and they hooted down thecommission and its ideas. Commission members wereclearly shocked by the rough and often rude treatment they received.
Chairman Marianitold the commission that he has received several "unpleasant" calls at home since the hearing, and commission member Randall Nixon said his son cried Wednesday night when Nixon left for the commission's regular work session. Commission member Ann Jones Koch said her daughterhad given her a special necklace "so nobody would yell at me."
Koch and Nixon, along with commission members Richard L. Talkin, ThomasMateya and former state Sen. James Clark, voted against a second hearing. Mariani, who said he was a "glutton for punishment," voted withBrendel to have one.
"To compound that kangaroo court would not serve our purpose," Nixon said. "Frankly, I'm running out of time." The commission has had 18 three-hour sessions since January.
"The same people would be coming back with a lot of their friends," Clark said. "We'velearned enough to make a report."
Mariani wanted a second hearing to deal with what he called a dual fear -- "fear that a pocket of high density will spread like a cancer and that there is no such thing as permanent open space."
He wanted to answer those fearsby having the commission point out that under its clustering proposals, the overall density would be less than that called for in the 1990 General Plan.
As for the preservation of open space, the commission suggests that several interests -- residents, the county, the state and a land conservancy -- be parties to a covenant agreement. If anyone sought to develop the open space, one or all of the parties could sue.
The commission "completely blew off the public" by refusing to conduct a second hearing, Taylor said. "The worst aspect is their arrogance -- saying that 'if you understood what we were proposing,you would go along with it.'
"The public does understand. If the commission wins, you can't undo the villages they've created," Taylorsaid.