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Activist battles to save the land Taylor views sewer line as ominous


Highland activist John W. Taylor strode through western Howard County this week warning his neighbors that the developers are coming.

The newest threat, he told residents in fliers hand-delivered to 1,000 households, is the county's plan to bring water and sewer service to St. Louis Church and the commercially zoned sites in Clarksville. Mr. Taylor wants residents to join him in opposing the plan.

It is not the 123 acres the county wants to service that bothers him as much as the acres he thinks will come afterward. "The domino analogy is overused, but is appropriate," Mr. Taylor said.

If the county brings water or sewerage into an area, developers might successfully argue that the area has changed enough to warrant more intense zoning or that the zoning board made a mistake in not zoning the property more intensely to begin with, he says.

Nearby acres owned by developers are "a ticking bomb," he said. "We could realistically be looking at mixed-use centers in five to 10 years in the Highland-Clarksville area -- super high intensity, build-it-to-the-max mixed use." Mixed-use zoning is a mix of houses, apartments, businesses, stores and open space that allows more houses per acre than rural zoning.

Mr. Taylor, who has been fighting a change in western Howard County zoning for nearly all of the six years he has lived in Highland, says he is planning a two-pronged attack against the water plan.

"I want to get the resolution authorizing the water and sewer extension tabled, and I would like to get the community out in force to make the point this is unacceptable," Mr. Taylor said.

He has invited his neighbors to join him at an 8 p.m. rally tomorrow night at Linden Linthicum Methodist Church on Route 108 to discuss ways of thwarting the county's plans. "I don't know if five people, 150 people or 300 people will show up," he said. "I hope it's a lot. I don't know if half the community is on vacation. That, if for no other reason, is why the council should wait until fall [to consider the resolution]."

One the goals of tomorrow night's rally will be to have those present lobby County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the council to put off consideration of the proposal until September.

The Clarksville water and sewer proposal is included in a general plan amendment that would put two other rural areas in the county's planned water and service area: 23 acres in the Burleigh Manor subdivision west of Centennial Lane and 2,800 acres surrounding the Alpha Ridge Landfill.

The resolution was aired before the council July 6 and is scheduled for a public hearing Monday. A final vote is scheduled for July 22, since the council will not be meeting in August.

Mr. Taylor thinks each area named in the resolution should be considered separately, and he hopes to persuade the council of the need for three separate resolutions.

Mr. Ecker said there has been "ample opportunity for public notice" since the county has been considering the water and sewer proposal for some time. In addition, "there is [still] ample opportunity for public input either verbally [at Monday night's hearing] or in writing" prior to the July 22 vote.

Some of the Clarksville properties "are real bad off" and need the water as soon as possible, Mr. Ecker said.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she shares some of Mr. Taylor's concerns.

"I don't like to consider major legislation in July," she said, "which is why I wanted redistricting done by June. I am certainly amenable to tabling the resolution and considering it later."

Bringing water to the landfill acres is a "very major issue," she said.

"We have to do it -- [carcinogenic contaminants have been found in test wells at the landfill] -- but it opens up big questions we really have to answer." Among those questions is whether the county can bring water and sewer to the area and still fend off attempts to intensify the zoning there.

Department officials are expected to address her concerns at Monday night's public hearing on the proposal.

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