Wilcox decisions called 'infinitely fair'


The man who yesterday said no to Jack Kent Cooke cannot tell the difference between the Washington Redskins' Burgundy and gold and the Dallas Cowboys' silver and blue.

Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox is colorblind, literally and figuratively, colleagues say.

Lawyers, county planners and residents who have passed through his hearing room since 1985 say Mr. Wilcox has taken pains to depoliticize his office and level the playing field between high-powered zoning attorneys and average residents.

"I look at Bob Wilcox as someone who is infinitely fair and just," said Marsha Perry, a Democratic state delegate and former Crofton activist. "I don't see him as being able to be bought or influenced by anything other than the facts."

Gretel Derby, an activist with the Cape St. Claire residents association, agreed: "I don't know that we ever didn't get a fair hearing. I don't know if you can give a judge or hearing officer higher praise -- unless he agreed with you all the time."

Many Laurel and Maryland City residents who oppose to the stadium feared they would not get a fair shake during six weeks of hearings this summer. Some opponents, when they saw a spray of flowers left on Mr. Wilcox's desk by his girlfriend, were certain of it.

When they objected that the flowers had the Redskins' colors, a baffled Mr. Wilcox acknowledged the possibility, saying he did not know what color they were.

Over the course of the summer, Mr. Wilcox's comments angered and delighted proponents and opponents alike as each side daily interpreted his questions and procedural rulings to their advantage.

Mr. Wilcox, 51, has seen dramas unfold before him many times. Since his appointment nine years ago, he has presided over nearly 4,500 requests for special exceptions, changes in zoning and variances to building regulations.

He easily rattles off his biggest cases. He denied a Philadelphia-based developer permission in 1985 to build a $40 million conference center in Davidsonville and, two years later, refused to allow an Edgewater airport to expand.

Most of the cases are relatively minor, though their impact on an individual homeowner often loom large, he said.

"I try to put as much time in on backyard fences, new decks, little homeowner things, as I do on major shopping centers," he said during an interview this summer.

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