From: Janet Eaton
Your article ("Boisterous crowd assails panel for suggesting homeclustering," by James M. Coram, Howard County Sun, June 9) on the following meeting was so biased that it cannot go unanswered. Your cartoon of John Taylor was similarly one-sided. It's time eastern Howard countians and Columbians heard the truth.
Wednesday night, June 5th, the Rural Residential Land Use Study Commission held a public hearing at Glenelg High School. Forty-seven of the 51 people allowed to address the commission were against the commission's proposals. It became clear that the developers know that disposal of sewage and protection of the ground water in western Howard County is a serious problem. They plan to go ahead with development without having a solution. It was pointed out that spraying sewer water would lead to unpleasantodors, and when the ground is frozen it becomes infeasible. Another member of the audience pointed out that the large communal septic tanks will clog up. They could only be relocated a limited number of times on limited acreage.
Since the proposal developments will be unable to have proper sewage treatment, there is a possibility that the people will contract infectious hepatitis, according to one doctor inthe audience.
A representative from Triad, a group with representatives from Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties, said they have been looking into cluster housing without public sewers. They found only one county, Worchester, had tried it in three instances. She pointed out that the soil there is nothing like ours. A MontgomeryCounty man said they tried cluster housing without public water/sewer and were forced to run public water/sewer out at considerable expense to taxpayers.
Another speaker pointed out that apparently sinceHoward County is unwilling to extend the water and sewer lines at this time, the developers have decided to go ahead with cluster housing, thus forcing county taxpayers to pay for the necessary water and sewer lines when these systems fail. Prince George's and Montgomery countians are upset because when our ground water becomes contaminated, it will contaminate their drinking water.
We do not have adequate landfill space or schools to cope with the people who are here already. We refused to pay our teachers a living wage and hire new teachersfor an already expanded school population. My son will be attending Mount Hebron High School, which was built to hold 1,000 students. When he gets there, there will be 1,400-plus students. And this is without the developmentthis commission is proposing. Whatever happened to the Adequate Facilities Legislation the County Council was promising us?
There are low-priced homes on the market in western Howard County that are not selling. People don't want the long commute and the inconvenience of living here. So now the developers propose to build town houses and cluster houses that there won't be any buyers for.
As one speaker said, the commission proposes cluster housing and town houses without even knowing if the concept works without public sewer and water. He said they propose to do this to the entire western portion of the county, and if it backfires, we the taxpayers will be left with the problem.
The commission says it wants to create a sense of place and character in the west. Commission Chairman Ted Mariani loves his cluster housing plans. He cannot understand that the people of western Howard County who have lived in suburban areas such as Rockville, where their sleep was disturbed by screeching tires and gunshots, prefer the screeching of a hoot owl. He cannot understand that we love the west the way it is, that there is a communal feeling here because the people who live here choose to and have a deep appreciation of nature. Other people cannot live without the amenities of the city. He and Mr. Talkin, a non-resident zoning attorney on the commission with land interests here, are like that. But they have no right to try to force everyone into their mold. We march to the beat of adifferent drummer. We love our "scuzzy shopping strips" (Mariani's description, not mine.)
This commission is composed of two kinds ofpeople: people who want to sell their land to developers and developers who want to make a big profit from the land. The County Council and county executive appointed these people because they fill their campaign chests.
Two things need to be done. First, the County Council and county executive must pass a law saying they will accept only $100 political contributions per person or lobbying organization. Second, the zoning commission must have representatives from the public health profession, the sanitation engineering profession and citizensfrom outside Columbia who have a real interest in preserving a healthy and rural environment in western Howard County. For example, a representative from Triad, a member of the Howard County Preservation Society and someone from Howard Countians for Responsible Growth shouldbe on the commission. Only then can a reasonable solution to the zoning problem that takes into account all the conflicting interests be reached.
If this is not done, there is going to be more rancor (and it was considerable at the meeting), and things will get really nasty. For example, do our present County Council members and the countyexecutive or his family want to be faced with a million dollar lawsuit when somebody's baby dies of hepatitis because they were greedy?
MAINTAIN, DON'T CHANGE
From: Martha Dunbar
I attended the (Rural Land Use) Commission's presentation Wednesday, June 5, and have since had the time to digest its material.
The commission's charge from the County Council, as stated in its presentation materials, is to evaluate "the forms of residential development possible in rural western Howard County using existing and alternative planningtechniques to enable the Howard County Council to determine the bestpossible ways to manage development in that area while maintaining the 1990 General Plan goals."
A primary goal of the 1990 General Plan is the preservation of the west. I think the commission has overlooked the best solution to attaining this goal: keep things the way they currently are!
The best strategy for preserving large tracts ofland is the Agricultural Land Preservation Program, which is in accordance with the General Plan.
This program has been in effect since 1980 and has become a model for the rest of the nation. Changes implemented in 1989 enhanced the desirability of placing land into the program.
At the commission's presentation, it was stated more land has been placed into the Agricultural Land Preservation Program than originally anticipated. This shows that this strategy is working!
On the other hand, the commission's main recommendation for preserving the west is clustering town houses and single-family homes on one-sixth acre lots (though its states there would be no required minimum nor maximum lot size), keeping the remainder of the land as open space.
Below are just a few of the many objections to this recommendation:
* Water and sewage requirements are proposed to be handled byby new and unproven technologies. The main problem is sewage: The commission is proposing shared septic systems and land spraying sewage.
Shared septic systems have been in use in Maryland for less than five years; there are approximately only 10 systems in the state, allin Dorchester County. No other county has planned major new development based on this technology.
Spraying sewage on land is not appealing -- potential smells and health hazards are too great a risk. What we do to our land impacts not only the current residents, but the water supplies of both Prince George's and Montgomery counties. We need to be extra cautious and use only proven sewage technologies.
* The proposal emphasizes open space. The commission's definition of open space is very different from mine. I do not consider land used forshared septic systems or land spraying to be open pace. To the contrary, I think open space as being a park, or something similar, to which all residents of the county have access.
* It sounds like the commission is proposing "mini-Columbia" villages without the accompanying "Columbia" amenities. Columbia is a great place to live. However people move to the west for a lifestyle different from the type offered in Columbia.
They want space between themselves and their neighbors. They want quite, privacy and the freedoms missing from Columbia, such as deciding the appearance of their homes and property and making changes without a committee.
* The commission is asking the residents of Howard County to bear an increased tax burden so that it ncreate idealistic little hamlets in the west, while the current strategy (the Agricultural Land Preservation Program) requires no additional revenues to meet the General Plan's objectives.
It is projected that there are sufficient revenues, between existing funds and funds raised by the transfer tax, to cover the county's acquisition of 30,000 acres (the amount of land the General Plan desires to protect), if placement of land into the program continues to be staggered over the next several years.
Unlike developing villages, no new generalrevenues would be required to preserve the west's rural character.
I am not an opponent of change. But I do object to change merely for the sake of change. I believe that the current three-acre zoning, along with the Agricultural Land Preservation Program, is a much better way to preserve the land in the west than scattering densely populated, suburban "mini-communities" throughout the west.