When Howard County Executive James N. Robey and County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone ran for office three years ago, they stressed their support of slower, managed growth - promises both say they have kept.
But don't tell that to the North Laurel and Fulton residents fighting two major mixed-use developments proposed for their area - Rouse's Key project and the recently approved Maple Lawn Farms - projects that Democrats Robey and Guzzone have supported.
"I don't think they've done what they said they would do," said Peter Oswald, a south county community leader. "Because politicians are politicians, they can spin a yarn and make it sound like they've done a good job."
With an election year on the horizon, some vow political revenge.
Though the potential fallout among voters isn't clear, county Republicans might benefit, thanks to the votes against Maple Lawn by Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon, the two GOP members of the County Council and Zoning Board. In Howard, the five-member County Council doubles as the zoning panel.
Oswald and others are angry that Guzzone's was the deciding vote in favor of Maple Lawn, though the approved plan allows only 100 more houses than the Republicans' proposal. Opponents are especially angry at Robey for calling the project "perfect for Howard County" at his September political fund raiser - before the Zoning Board decision. The event raised about $10,000 from business and development leaders, including Maple Lawn developer Stuart Greenebaum.
The two Democrats say the legal foundation for both developments was set before they took office in December 1998. They said they have slowed the pace of construction, accelerated infrastructure projects to better prepare the area and limited countywide growth in other ways, mainly through the new General Plan. The big mixed-use projects should be viewed in the larger context of preserving the western county and concentrating growth on the county's east side, they say.
Defining the issue
"That land was going to be developed," Robey said of the Maple Lawn proposal. "I don't think it's too dense. I think I've honored my commitment to manage growth."
In his vision of a perfect Smart Growth law for Maryland, Guzzone says a farm such as Maple Lawn wouldn't qualify for dense development, but that was not the issue before the Zoning Board, he noted. The board's job was to determine whether the development plan met the legal and zoning requirements. "Every single voting board member approved [Maple Lawn] at over 1,000 units. Every single member recognized that the plan as presented conformed to the criteria," Guzzone said.
But southeastern county residents, fearful they will be swamped by the two projects' 2,300 homes and more than 2 million square feet of commercial and office space, disagree. "My gut feeling is, in spite of what Guy has said, he made a political decision backing the Democratic Party," said John W. Adolphsen, chairman of the land-use committee of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association. "I felt let down by Guy."
Although Columbia Democrats Mary C. Lorsung and C. Vernon Gray also supported Greenebaum's plan, they have attracted less criticism - apparently because the opponents felt Lorsung and Gray were consistent.
"I can accept it when a politician is unabashedly pro-development, but duplicity doesn't sit well with me and many others," said John W. Taylor, a leader of past countywide slow-growth movements. "The efforts by Allan Kittleman and Chris Merdon to respond to the citizens won't be forgotten. Many of us will be helping them out in the future."
Possible GOP benefit
The perception of turmoil among the Democrats could encourage more and better GOP candidates next year, Republican party leaders said.
"I believe anybody running would probably follow the example of [Merdon and Kittleman] and work towards slow growth. They have worked continually to decrease the density [of large developments]," said county Republican Party leader Louis M. Pope .
Some opponents of Maple Lawn feel betrayed most by Guzzone, who provided the crucial swing vote in the Zoning Board's approval of the plans.
Guzzone, said Taylor, a Highland resident and past president of Howard Citizens for Responsible Growth, "led everybody down the path that he's a slow-growth activist. He's a Guy Guzzone activist."
The councilman disagrees. "If I were to do the political thing, I would have voted against" the plan for Maple Lawn, he said. "That would have been simple, easy, and everybody would have been happy, but I wouldn't have been happy with myself, because I wouldn't have lived up to my responsibility."
Others - including Tom Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association, which is in Guzzone's district - are angriest at Robey.
"I am disappointed in the way [Guzzone] voted on Maple Lawn, but I'm very pleased with a lot of things he's done for this neighborhood. It gives me mixed feelings," Flynn said.
"If I do hold any animosity, it's probably toward the county executive," for treating Greenebaum's plan "as the greatest thing to hit Howard County since motherhood and apple pie," said Flynn.
Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who for eight years represented southeastern Howard on the County Council, predicts Guzzone will suffer no permanent political damage.
"I think they may or may not be happy with him on one issue, but on balance he is doing a fine job. I think he'll have no problem getting re-elected," she said.
Oswald and Adolphsen said they aren't sure they will hold Guzzone's vote against him if he runs for re-election next year. "He's done some good things," Oswald said.