How will Howard rezoning play in '94?

Now that the ink is dry on a comprehensive rezoning package for the eastern part of Howard County, it's time to put the plan to proper use: Namely as political fodder for the 1994 campaign for county offices.

The plan was signed last week by the county Zoning Board -- alias the County Council -- and it's the great divide between Republicans and Democrats in Howard.


While County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, wanted a pro-business rezoning that fully embraced the concept of high-density, mixed-use developments, he lost out to the Democratic-controlled Zoning Board. In the end, the board adopted a slower, phased-in approach to growth and development.

Each side will now try to convince the electorate that theirs was the better plan.


The Republicans contend that putting all the development projects on the table at once would help guarantee modest, planned development into the next century -- a feature particularly pleasing to the business community. The Democrats' direction will appeal to those concerned about rapid growth in the county.

In the court of public opinion, the Democrats win this round. The Zoning Board's decision to put the brakes on a Rouse Co. plan for a large mixed-use center in North Laurel was as flashy an attention-getter as one can get, and bolstered the notion that the Democrats are tougher when it comes to growth.

The truth is, though, that the two parties are not that far apart. The final package of rezoning measures actually has plenty of development to go around, including five mixed-use centers, an apartment complex and two major shopping centers. Just listen to slow-growth activist John W. Taylor -- a Republican turned Democrat -- who isn't at all happy about the plan and contends that most Zoning Board members did not take into account public opinion.

But defining who's for what as far as growth is concerned is tricky business in Howard County. Some people still feel that former County Executive Elizabeth Bobo lost in her bid for re-election in 1990 in large part because voters saw her as pro-development while the developers branded her anti-business.

Growth continues to be the biggest political issue in Howard -- and the one most open to political distortion.