Saturday, October 15, 2005

Exercisin' futility

Stalemate on zoning changes for the rural west.

After months of passionate and often tempestuous debate, it's back to square one as officials wrestle with the future landscape of western Howard County.

What began as a political issue might have to be settled politically, at least temporarily, many say, after a citizens committee's refusal to embrace zoning changes designed to preserve more land and further curb development in the west.

Officials said they haven't decided on their next move, but several people close to the issue said County Executive James N. Robey must take the lead in finding a solution that satisfies state officials, who have been pressing for the curbs, while not ignoring the committee.

It is not very surprising that the committee couldn't reach a consensus. Zoning and property rights issues are always tricky, especially when the stakes (read: property values) are as high as they are in Howard County.

The loser in all this is, unfortunately, county planning director Marsha McLaughlin, who getting immense pressure from the state to enact changes to the agricultural preservation program at the same time she was meeting with tremendous resistance from landowners. Literally stuck between an irresistable force and an immovable object.

Actually, I guess there was more than on loser, as county citizens who are committed to smart growth (little "S") and preserving our agricultural heritage can't be happy with the result (I know I'm not).

However, if there is one good thing to come out of this, it is that a consensus solution probably wouldn't have been very successful anyway--it would almost surely be watered down and toothless. At this point, it looks like it is up to County Executive Jim Robey to step in and take over. To be sure, any effective solution will anger many people, but that is exactly why governing (and politics) is hard. If you're reading, Jim, might I suggest my proposal as a starting point. Remember, it's all about triangulation--take the Republican's ammo (free markets, property rights, etc.) and use it against them.

Unfortunately, Chris Merdon, the Republican candidate for Robey's seat, couldn't resist taking political pot shots, saying, "The administration is the one that raised the issue, so the administration needs to say what its position is."

Well, yes, the "administration" did in fact raise the issue, but not until the state threatened to decertify and defund the county's agricultural program, which I'm sure Merdon wouldn't be too pleased about either. And you can't have it both ways.

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