Guy J. Guzzone bears the weight of hundreds of homes on his shoulders.
Tonight, the Howard County Council, doubling as the Howard County Zoning Board, is likely to vote on the Maple Lawn Farms project in Fulton, one of the biggest mixed-use housing developments to come to the county since Columbia.
Two on the board have said they want to scale back the 1,168-home project; two have said they support the density as is. Guzzone, a North Laurel/Savage Democrat, is the man in the middle, the one who is expected to cast the tie-breaking vote for a project that could dramatically change the character of southern Howard County.
Some believe the vote could have almost as dramatic an effect on Guzzone's political career. They say if he supports the developer, Stewart J. Greenebaum, rather than the residents of Howard County who oppose the project, he will never be re-elected.
"The bottom line is whether or not he realizes his political future is on the line," said John W. Taylor, past president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth and an opponent of the Maple Lawn Farms project.
Guzzone, however, prefers to deflect the attention from himself.
"From a process standpoint, you know, every one of the five [votes] counts equally, and I think everybody's opinion and everybody's input deserves due respect," he said.
Guzzone surprised many residents at the Zoning Board's work session two weeks ago. They had expected him to side with the Republicans on the board, who favor scaling back the project. Guzzone instead supported keeping the density as it is proposed. He said if the density were lowered, he could see more housing allocations in his district, which he didn't want.
"I'm worried about deviating from the General Plan," he said after the work session.
Residents watching the work session said they were upset that Guzzone seemed to be supporting the developer rather than the citizens who helped to get Guzzone elected.
"I was really just devastated," said Peter J. Oswald, vice president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens' Association. "I was shocked. I can't say I'm mad. Maybe I'm a little naive to think that any politician is what I expect them to be before they get elected."
But Guzzone said people should not jump to conclusions. He said the Zoning Board has yet to vote.
"So far we haven't taken a formal vote on anything," he said. "Furthermore, we haven't taken an informal vote or straw vote on anything. We've asked the petitioner to come back, and you know, anything is possible. Nothing is off the table."
Opponents of the plan said they think that's unlikely. Although the board has not voted on the project, at the last work session board members sent suggestions back to Greenebaum - and reducing the proposed density wasn't one of them. That leads opponents to believe the current proposed density is here to stay.
Guzzone rode to victory in November 1998 partly on voters' expectation that he would slow growth. His past seemed to support that trend; he was a former leader in the state Sierra Club and an outspoken opponent of the Rouse Co.'s 517-acre Key Property development in North Laurel.
"I had a lot of conversations with Guy prior to his being elected," Oswald said, "and I was always convinced that if anyone was in our camp, it was Guy."
Taylor said slowing development was an "implicit" - in other words, unspoken - part of Guzzone's campaign.
Guzzone did say that he wanted to delay the Maple Lawn Farms project, and he kept that campaign promise at the last work session meeting, where he supported holding the project until roads that could handle it would be completed. At the same time, he has always said he wants more moderately priced housing in the county. Mixed-use projects, such as Maple Lawn Farms, tend to include more moderately priced homes such as condominiums and townhouses.
In fact, those who support the Maple Lawn Farms project have accused the naysayers of being single-family-home elitists who don't want people of moderate income to move into their neighborhood.
"It's not that anybody is against affordable housing," said Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association. "But you've got to locate it appropriately. ... Allowing high-density housing there, it's going to open the whole area around Fulton to piecemeal zoning."
Since the past work session, residents have been abuzz with speculation about why Guzzone seems to be supporting the developer. Oswald said perhaps Guzzone sees himself as the man who can find common ground between the two Republicans and the other two Democrats on the board.
"Guy has been in the political arena for an awfully long time, and I think he has ambitions," Oswald said. "I really think he sees himself as the great compromiser, the person who is not so erratic, but the person who brings everybody together at the midpoint. He sees that he is the one who has gone halfway."
If that's the gambit, Taylor said, he thinks it will backfire.
"I think he's gambling his entire political future," Taylor said. "I don't know if he realizes that."
John Adolphsen, another opponent of the Maple Lawn Farms project, said if Guzzone continues to side with the developer at tonight's work session, it will increase the cynicism of an already cynical populace.
"If our politicians truly do want citizen participation at civic events or things like this, you can't squash them like a bug just because someone with deep pockets comes along," he said.
When asked whether the weight of the decision has kept him up at night, Guzzone laughed.
"Many aspects of my job keep me up at night," he said.