Manley irks council by refusing to budge on rezoning issue UMBC proposal leaves her isolated


Because of an editing error, last Wednesday's editions of The Evening Sun reported incorrectly that Baltimore County Councilwoman Berchie L. Manley had threatened to go public with embarrassing information about her fellow council members. In fact, Mrs. Manley, in a disagreement with the rest of the council over a proposed research center at UMBC, never said she had any information about fellow council members. What she said was that she had information "so negative and it could get potentially so ugly, I hope I never have to use it. . . . I hope I can convince my colleagues by other means to join me."

The Evening Sun regrets the errors.

Berchie L. Manley is taking on a tough crowd: her six Baltimore County Council colleagues, the Hayden administration and the state of Maryland.

But the 1st District Republican refuses to back down from her fight to keep the University of Maryland Baltimore County from building a new research center on campus. She's even threatened to go public with embarrassing information about her fellow councilmen if they don't go along with her.

"It's so negative and it could get potentially so ugly, I hope I never have to use it," she warned them at work session on the county's comprehensive zoning plan.

So far, no one has given in. In fact, the state and the county already have promised nearly $2 million for the project, which officials see as a source of jobs and income in a tough economy.

But the Southwest Community Coalition, which represents parts Catonsville, Arbutus and Relay, opposes the research park and has filed a petition asking that the zoning on 83 acres of the UMBC campus be changed from office-technology to residential.

Mrs. Manley, a longtime community activist with little political experience who was elected to her first term in 1990, is standing with her constituents in what has become a noisy, if ultimately losing battle. She told her council colleagues that the research center will "destroy the quality of life" in the surrounding neighborhoods, create traffic congestion, lower property values and possibly subject residents to air pollution.

"UMBC claims that it will have control over what goes in the research park but we don't trust the university to really have control over anything," she said.

The down-zoning request, and the resulting conflict, is the only major dispute in the current comprehensive rezoning process. The council is scheduled to vote on more than 600 requests for zoning changes on Oct. 15.

Many of Mrs. Manley's colleagues are angry that she has dug in her heels when political forces are so stacked against her. Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, said she was told several weeks ago that she didn't have her colleagues' support.

Last week, at a public hearing on 1st District rezoning requests, the debate turned ugly when one resident -- echoing several others -- told council members that their unwillingness to support Mrs. Manley meant "there has to be corruption going on somewhere."

The next day, at a council work session, Mrs. Manley issued her threat, but wouldn't say what kind of information about her colleagues she would release.

"I hope I can convince my colleagues by other means to join me," she said.

Her colleagues have not been moved.

"If she has information that is important to this issue and could perhaps change our minds, she better let us have it now because time is running out," said Mr. Riley.

Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, criticized Mrs. Manley for not helping the community and the university negotiate a solution.

"That is what being a leader is all about, and we have all been elected to be leaders," he said at the meeting.

He reminded Mrs. Manley that the university needs its current zoning, and said council members might consider the rezoning if UMBC doesn't respond to the community's concerns.

Those reassurances did not appease Mrs. Manley.

"I will not negotiate or deal with UMBC," she retorted. "The down-zoning request must be granted."

Mrs. Manley says she's upset because her colleagues won't extend "councilmanic courtesy" to the UMBC zoning issue. Councilmanic courtesy is an unofficial rule by which members support one another on legislation restricted to a particular district.

But other councilmen say the project is far too important to the entire county.

Bernard L. Berkowitz, senior adviser to the university president, said the project's first phase would cover 16 acres of the 36 acres suitable for construction.

The university has been negotiating with Westinghouse to see whether the company will anchor the park by building a manufacturing research facility.

He said the university showed community leaders a draft covenant binding the school to controls over the park.

For example, prospective companies would have to submit detailed information on the materials they would handle. The covenant also prohibits manufacturing except for research prototypes.

"We only got one response to our draft, the rest chose not to answer," said Mr. Berkowitz. He said the university was willing to discuss the covenant with Mrs. Manley and community leaders.

"That has been our position all along. But because of Mrs. Manley's unyielding position and that of most of the community leaders, we have no one to talk to," he said.

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