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Petition drive successful; zoning bill going on '06 ballot


Dozens of proposed zoning changes approved in an omnibus County Council zoning bill will be decided by Howard County voters now that the elections board has certified enough signatures to put the issue on the 2006 ballot.

Betty Nordaas, the county elections administrator, said that 6,027 names were verified when her office stopped counting - 20 percent more than the required 5,000.

Angela Beltram, a former County Council member who led the petition effort, declared her ad-hoc group "delighted" about the drive's success.

She criticized the council for approving the bill, saying that people supporting the referendum are angry about a broad range of issues - not just the Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church expansion rezoning that sparked the petition drive.

"It is about the County Council's attitude about citizens who express their opposition for good reason. It is about the County Council who seem to believe that they always know best," Beltram said.

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who is running for county executive, agreed with Beltram. Merdon was the only council member to oppose the rezoning bill - including the St. Johns Lane church rezoning.

"Sometimes the council feels they are above the people of Howard County. This is a very good check and balance," Merdon said.

That angered council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat also expected to seek the county executive's job.

Guzzone said he, too, respects the right of the public to petition a bill to referendum, but he objected to Merdon's criticism of the council's attitude.

"That is the most inflammatory, ridiculous comment that we consider ourselves above the people," Guzzone said. "Every council member and elected official is trying to do their best job to balance, including him. He sort of diminishes the effort that everyone put into this."

Meanwhile, at least one landowner seeking a zoning change that was included among the 40 issues in the imperiled bill is moving forward via another route.

A 24-acre parcel at Routes 100 and 103 is slated for a public information meeting at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Elkridge library. The issue eventually will go before the Zoning Board to seek a change for an office park without waiting for the election.

Beltram said her group will monitor these issues as they come up before organizing a campaign to support the referendum in November 2006.

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