Council passes bills on planning and animals


The Howard County Council began its annual summer recess after approving one bill deemed illegal by county and state lawyers, and another that fails to achieve its sponsor's stated goal.

The council, which met Friday before its monthlong break, also approved a bill placing new zoning restrictions on adult entertainment businesses.

East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes said his purpose in proposing to move a sensitive planning boundary south, from Columbia to the Middle Patuxent River, was to help the Pentecostal Church of God sell its 28-acre property for development.

Moving the line will give landowners in the affected areas access to housing allocations available in Columbia, allowing them to move forward faster with building projects.

But the amended bill approved by the council moves the line to Route 32 - not far enough to affect the church but just far enough to help a 30-acre project of 140 townhouses and a two-story office building proposed by developers Dale Thompson and Donald R. Reuwer off Cedar Lane at Route 32. By moving the line, the project gets immediate access to more than 400 housing allocations in Columbia. Without the line change, the project must wait years because allocations in the southeastern district are taken by the Maple Lawn Farms and Emerson developments.

Despite the objections of the council's two Republicans, the county planning board and the Rouse Co., the three council Democrats voted for it.

Western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman denounced the bill as inappropriate, as setting a precedent and as a benefit to "one or two property owners."

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said: "I do not believe it should be considered precedent-setting." He called it an "aberration."

After the meeting, Rakes - often the pivotal vote on the five-member council - acknowledged that the bill will no longer help the church move its regional headquarters.

"Hopefully, they'll be able to work something out in the future," Rakes said. "I've done all I can do."

The measure alleged to be illegal is a ban on animal leg-hold traps. It was inserted into a comprehensive rewriting of animal control laws.

Kittleman tried to amend the ban on leg-hold traps out of the county law, presenting a letter from Assistant County Attorney Ruth Fahrmeier, which said: "We have concluded that regulation of trapping is pre-empted by state law."

That means the state controls trapping and county governments can't usurp that authority. Fahrmeier restated her opinion to the council at the meeting, and Kittleman said that if approved, the ban would be unenforceable.

The council's Democrats killed the amendment 3 to 2.

Some counties, Guzzone said, have banned leg-hold traps with local bills enacted by the General Assembly. But without a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, he argued, the claim of illegality is just "an attorney's opinion."

Guzzone said, "My vote came down to how I feel about the use of these traps."

State Department of Natural Resources officials and county wildlife management workers use the traps to remove beaver, fox and coyotes that become a nuisance, and private trappers and farmers have also protested a ban.

But animal rights advocates argue that the traps are inhumane and should never be used.

The final vote on the animal control bill was unanimous because the council agreed that the extra protection it offers communities from dangerous animals outweighed the dispute over animal traps.

The adult entertainment law revisits the subject for the county government.

The county first tried to restrict adult bookstores, including the Pack Shack on U.S. 40, over five years ago, but the Maryland Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional last year because it restricted the store locations so severely as to volatile freedom of speech guarantees.

The county is also liable for court costs up to $200,000 for the Pack Shack's court fight to stay open.

The new law allows up to 101 locations, compared with 12 to 23 under the old law, though some residents had urged the council to find a more restrictive middle ground.

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