Can a no-growth advocate change his spots? John W. Taylor is trying to convince Howard County residents he can. In his race to wrest the County Council seat in the Fifth District from Republican Charles G. Feaga, Mr. Taylor has softened his hard-line stance against development in Howard.
Not long ago, Mr. Taylor was quick to rail against the influence of developers in zoning decisions. Now, he says that he will deal fairly with developers and is willing to support construction of a "happy medium" of 2,500 homes per year. That's slightly less than the building cap already set by the council.
But Mr. Taylor walks a fine line between this new incarnation and his high-profile past. Despite his public assurances that he understands that a certain level of growth is healthy for the county, his overtures to the development community have been tepid.
He is not far in ideology from Susan B. Gray, the no-growth advocate running for county executive. Ms. Gray's rhetoric isn't so camouflaged: She says that developers are part of an "inside circle" that will no longer get special treatment if she gets elected. She has even penciled in specific firms on her hit list, including the Rouse Co. Likewise, she has targeted the county's planning and zoning, public works and law office directors for immediate firing for past transgressions in her eyes, should she get elected.
Yet a third no-growth advocate, Gary P. Prestianni, is running for a council seat in southeastern Howard's Second District. An electrician with his own ties to developers, Mr. Prestianni, appears to be less concerned about the pace of development than about the size of development firms. He prefers smaller companies to the giants that currently dominate the construction trades.
Whatever their stripes, the county's current spate of no-growth candidates share a similar problem. Since 1990, when growth seemed a major concern for residents, county growth controls and a recession have cooled real estate investment. Reviving interest in the growth issue, whether through the moderating tones of John Taylor or the tough promises of Susan Gray, will not be easy. Given the vagaries of the economy, a candidate's ability to control growth could prove less desirable than the ability to stimulate it.