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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball issues first veto, halts scenic road buffer expansion

Calvin Ball issued his first veto as Howard County executive Monday, halting a bill that would have expanded the buffer zone for scenic roads.

The bill — which was co-sponsored by Councilwomen Liz Walsh, Deb Jung and Christiana Mercer Rigby, all Democrats — would have expanded the buffer from 35 feet to 100 feet for new developments built along scenic roads.

During a public hearing last month, the proposal was applauded by the Howard County Citizens Association and derided by the Maryland Building Industry Association and the owners of the Milk Producers Cooperative Association whose property located in North Laurel is in the process of being developed to hold 397 homes.

The company’s CFO Joe Cowell said at the hearing that the proposal would have an adverse impact on the development which would help the company become more financially stable.

Ball, who is a Democrat, said in a letter that while he acknowledges there are “valid concerns about the protection of our scenic roads … The administration, the public and members of the County Council were not given sufficient time to review the amendments to the amendments to determine impacts, unintended consequences and consistency with the General Plan.”

Councilman David Yungmann, a Republican who represents the western portion of the county, three days before the April 1 vote filed seven amendments to the bill. Councilman Opel Jones, a Democrat whose district includes Oakland Mills, co-sponsored at least two. Thirteen amendments to amendments were filed by multiple council members including Yungmann, Walsh and Rigby.

Yungmann voted against the final bill while Jones abstained.

Jones in an interview said he abstained because “I didn’t know what I was voting on.”

He filed the amendments after it became clear his lingering questions would remain unanswered and that Walsh, Jung and Rigby would not vote to table the bill.

The veto “gives us a chance to come together and work on a factually and empirically based bill,” Jones added.

Jung, whose district includes the five villages of Columbia, said she is “really disappointed Ball vetoed a bill that he and [former Councilwoman] Jen Terrasa filed while they were council members.”

“While the language of the bill changed, the substance, which was to protect and preserve scenic roads, did not,” Jung said. “This bill would have improved the county’s ability to preserve [its] scenic roads.”

Yungmann in an email described the proposal as an “overreaching bill [that] was hurried through the legislative process without a thorough community discussion or vetting by the departments that would have needed to enforce it.”

He added, “While I appreciate that our 25-year-old scenic roads program should be examined and possibly updated, I appreciate County Executive Ball’s intention to veto this bill.”

Rigby in a statement defended the proposal and its introduction, writing, “Both this bill and the introduction of subsequent amendments fell within the normal legislative process, relying on collaboration from council members, community advocates and other stakeholders.”

Though dismayed by the veto, Rigby described it as “an opportunity to refine the details and reintroduce this legislation at a later date.”

Walsh did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

A veto override from the County Council seems unlikely as it requires support from four out of the five council members.

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UPDATES:

This story has been updated with comment from Councilwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby.

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