Guy J. Guzzone continues to surprise everyone.
Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, indicated last night in a straw poll at a Howard County Zoning Board work session that he might support reducing the housing density of Maple Lawn Farms, a huge mixed-use development proposed for southern Howard County.
Two weeks ago, Guzzone had said during a work session that he supported the density as is, angering neighbors who oppose the project.
John Adolphsen, an observer who opposes the development, summed up the night's proceedings as: "Flip, flop, flip, flop, flip, flop."
In the straw poll, the board voted 3-2 on a revised plan for the 508-acre former turkey farm in Fulton.
The vote was to decrease the housing density, to increase the employment space from 77 acres to 119.8 acres and to add more moderate-income housing.
Board members also indicated that they believe the development should not start until funding is approved for relocation of Route 216 so the area can better handle the additional traffic.
The board will hold more hearings on the proposed changes. The hearings have not been scheduled.
The 3-2 vote came as a surprise to many.
In Howard County, the County Council doubles as the Zoning Board. Over the past several weeks, it has become clear that the board is practically split down the middle on Maple Lawn Farms.
The two Republicans, Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City and Allan H. Kittleman of western Howard, came up with the idea of reducing the housing density and increasing the employment space.
Two of the Democrats, Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia and C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia, have said they favor keeping the density the same.
Guzzone is the swing vote - and last night he appeared to swing toward the Republicans.
"I do have some compatibility issues I would like to discuss," he said.
The project would bring townhouses and condominiums to a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes.
"My goal is to see those moderate units occur in this project, but the whole mix has got to work together," Guzzone said.
Neighbors who oppose the project were surprised at the turn of events - but cautious about getting too excited.
They said they realize the board has to hear more testimony before its final vote.
"Hopefully, Guy's going to find his traction," said John W. Taylor, a vocal opponent of the development. "He was slipping badly."
Stewart J. Greenebaum, the Maple Lawn Farms developer, had no comment.
At the same time Guzzone indicated last night he might support lower housing density, he also defended his earlier push against reducing the density.
He said it would interfere with General Plan housing allocations, transferring more housing units to his district.
In a County Council work session on the General Plan yesterday afternoon, Guzzone proposed reducing the number of housing allocations per year from 2,000 to 1,500 for 2004 and 2005. It was unclear how that could affect Maple Lawn Farms.
"My point is simply that we should be extending it over a longer time," he said. "I'm in no rush to reach build-out."
During the Zoning Board work session, Guzzone repeatedly called for more hearings, but no other board members supported that.
Then Merdon suggested that if Guzzone really wanted more testimony, he could side with the Republicans temporarily, just to change the plans substantially and justify more hearings.
Lorsung opposed that proposal, calling it "perversion of the process."
But in the end - whatever his motives - Guzzone decided, for last night at least, to side with the Republicans.
"Certainly this is no delaying tactic," he said. "I just want to see it in different lights. ... I'd like to see the developer take a whack at a proposal with reduced density that would make it all work together."
Nobody in the room last night envied Guzzone's position.
"He's caught in the middle," said Hugh Squires of Fulton, who has sat through most of the hearings. "He's in a real hard place."
Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.