Tuesday, June 13, 2006

COPE Awards...

Although I attended the COPE Forum last night, I don’t have that much to say about it. So instead of trying to string together a narrative in the short amount of time I have now, I’ll just give out a few awards:

Most Newsworthy Item: Ken Ulman announced that he would not be introducing legislation this month to change the comprehensive rezoning process but will wait until the community has had more time to discuss possible changes our universally loathed system. He repeatedly emphasized, however, our need to exchange ideas, not just criticism, something he has received a lot of since announcing his proposal.

Most Appropriate Comments Given the Setting: Chris Merdon stressed repeatedly the fact that he voted against comp lite. Since this forum was sponsored by an organization that formed in response to perceived comp lite injustices, COPE, he could say exactly what they wanted to hear, at least on that issue.

Best Bipartisan Moment: A question was asked about conflicting rezoning votes for the same parcel. Apparently, Ulman voted in favor a rezoning a certain property in the comp lite process but voted against it during a subsequent piecemeal case. He mentioned that it was because the processes and criteria are different depending on the type of rezoning petition. Merdon’s response reiterated almost exactly what Ulman said.

Worst Bipartisan Moment: Merdon read aloud an email from a prominent elected Democrat – but didn’t mention her name – that was highly critical of Ulman’s zoning proposal. I read this email earlier in the day, as I received it from a listserv I subscribe to. I had always thought that discussions on this listserv were for members of the group only. Does that mean I can now start quoting these messages on this site? I don’t like the precedent.

Most Entertaining Aspect: Harry Dunbar.

Rudest Moment: Ulman was interrupted by an audience member when responding to a question about the Plaza tower in Town Center. I think he handled it well. He wasn’t rude in reply and he corrected he heckler’s misperceptions about the issue.

Most Insightful and Possibly Prescient Comment: Though I didn’t stay long into the council candidate portion, I was struck by something Joshua Feldmark said. In commenting about needed changes to the zoning process, he discussed his efforts as a CA Board Member to improve the governance process and allow for more citizen involvement. Ultimately, the reforms failed in large part because the process for changing the process was broken. This experience, I think, will serve him well if given the chance to work for changes to our planning and zoning system.


Dave Wissing said...

Sorry, Dunbar's act is getting old. Most Entertaining definitely should have gone to Don Dunn.

On a logisitcs note, and maybe you disagree, but I thought there was way too many candidates on the panel during the Council Candidate forum portion. By the time they got to the seventh or eighth candidate, just about every variation of a response conceivable was given by somebody to the point that it became tedious, especially if it was a question you had zero interest in. Plus, having the candidates wait 15-20 minutes between being able to speak is just too long in my opinion. I like the forums that are limited to one council seat at a time. My approach would have been to ask questions directed towards a single district at a time and then move on to the next question.

Despite that, credit to Angie Beltram and C.O.P.E. for asking good questions and forcing the candidates to give informative and relevant responses.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Councilman Ulman, criticism is not a bad thing. It is in fact what makes us better and it is part and parcel of being elected as a representative of the people. There has been a continuous exchange of ideas and suggestions for the improvement of the process- including testimony by participants, comments by councilman, feedback from DPZ, a letter to the editor from the League of Women Voters, etc. These ideas have been specific and constructive. To indicate, otherwise, is simply wrong. I'm glad the Council is waiting and taking their time and listening to the concerns of the citizens. It is the right thing to do and it shows a willingness on their part to address a broken process.
Mary Catherine

Anonymous said...

From the LWV from last year...

Letter to the Editor:


The League of Women Voters of Howard County believes that democratic
government depends upon the informed and active participation of its
citizens and requires that governmental bodies protect the citizen's right
to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions and making public
records accessible. We therefore request the County Council's
consideration, examination and recommendations regarding public notification
and participation in the County Comprehensive Zoning process.

This was the first time that comprehensive zoning was handled as a
legislative bill. It was also the first time that the County Council
deferred certain land use decisions to another time and another County
Council bill.

There needs to be consistency in the legislative consideration of land use
and zoning regulation changes. Advertisement needs to include enough
information to identify the specific location and immediate surrounding area
of property under consideration. The list of properties considered for
change must receive the same public notification and Planning Board review.

During both the comprehensive (2003-2004) and Comp-lite (2004-2005)
processes citizens raised concerns about how a property was placed in the
Council bills. The Administration proposed changes, owners requested
changes and Council members initiated proposed changes. Adjacent neighbors
were sometimes informed by a certified letter from the property owner,
sometimes informed by a letter from their Council person and sometimes only
informed if they saw a newspaper article or read the legal advertisement.
No properties were posted.

The Planning Board's considerations of proposed changes were held on
different dates and times. The Planning Board was sometimes hearing many
changes and at other times only hearing one proposed change. The public
questioned the criteria used for Planning Board involvement or
non-involvement. The Planning Board did not review the Council initiated
amendments pertaining to a specific property's zoning.

The County's website provided detailed information but assumed
sophistication and understanding of the acronyms of zoning. It lacked
analysis of the overall impact of combined changes.

It is unclear as to what the appeal/referendum process might be for a
property or a regulation change. Can one appeal a specific property or
regulation change from the whole?

The League knows that the County Council, Department of Planning and Zoning,
the Planning Board and citizens have expressed the desire to improve the
comprehensive zoning process. We would like to be included in those
discussions. We urge the County Council to start the discussion now while
the numerous issues are fresh in your and the community's minds.

Betsy Grater

Co-President, League of Women Voters of Howard County

Anonymous said...

Document from March of '05 released to the public from COPE

This is a petition drive to bring the Comp-Lite council bill (CB 2-2005) to referendum. It is a non-partisan countywide initiative. Signing the petition does not indicate you support or oppose the bill; it does signal support to place this bill on the ballot in the next General Election. Once this issue is on the ballot, the citizens of Howard County will have the opportunity to vote to support or oppose Council Bill 2-2005. If the referendum succeeds and the Bill is recalled, all properties will revert to their former zoning status.

Citizens for an Open Process for Everyone (COPE) supports the referendum for the following reasons:

Comp-Lite changed zoning from a public process with public input to a closed process.
v The Council voted for zoning changes that, among other things, would enable 1000+ residential units to be built in Elkridge sans the normal hearing process. The community of Elkridge will not be allowed to be part of a public planning process for those one thousand plus homes.
v The Council voted to rezone a church in Ellicott City – allowing it to expand exponentially outside of the prescribed process. This sets a precedent for all conditional uses in Howard County. The church, daycare, or other conditional use in your community could also opt out of working with its community to expand and build at a much more intense level by seeking the same zoning change.
These changes, and others like them, silence the voice of the people and signals no-faith in the current hearing examiner process. Council Bill 2-2005 contradicts the General Plan- the legal foundation of all zoning decisions by preventing citizens from taking part in the decisions and actions that affect them. It violates the rights of due-process of the people.

Howard County is moving away from a "clear and transparent" zoning process
v Community notification was not required. Adjacent property owners were not notified of zoning changes that directly affected them. No properties were posted.
v Substantive amendments were made at the 11th hour- avoiding the public scrutiny of amendments made at the beginning of the process.
v Planning Board meetings were held on different dates and times and sometimes without notification. The Planning Board was not required to review the Council initiated amendments.
v The zoning changes allow for greater residential density in Ellicott City and Elkridge- beyond the scope of growth outlined in the General Plan.
v Properties already zoned commercial- and needed for our tax base- were taken out of commercial and converted to high density residential. Creating more high-density residential zoning in areas where our schools are overcrowded is arbitrary.
Decisions based upon a fatally flawed process threaten the integrity of all zoning. Haphazard decisions that dramatically increase growth put incredible pressure on our already overcrowded schools and infrastructure.

This referendum signals that the citizens of Howard County are aware of and willing to fight for the issues that will have a significant, permanent impact on Howard County.

Anonymous said...

Notes taken from the Council Worksession 6/7/05

Members of the Department of Planning and Zoning and the Planning Board were there to provide input to the Council on the comprehensive zoning process. Discussion roamed across various points of view on zoning, thus there was not a tidy organization to viewpoints.

The first issue was the competing demands of not making the process take forever, and allowing enough time for community involvement.

Marsha McLaughlin (Director of DPZ) suggested each proposal should discuss how it tied to the general plan, and include further details. She also suggested tighter timeframes for the proposal (i.e. cut-off dates for map submittals rather than what happened in Comp-lite where the council added properties up until the end).

There were some discussion (driven by Guzzone and Ulman?) to have the zoning process held more often but focused on just one region at a time, round robin style. Marsha pointed out that Montgomery County did that and wound up with 22 uncoordinated policies. (I talked afterwards to Feaga, and he seemed to think that it made sense to have a first level hearing broken down to the council member’s district and then roll it together in a later county wide comp zoning hearings.) There was concern over how to handle map changes on the fringe of one district which could affect a neighboring district. There was discussion on a suggestion by Merdon for a possible mid-decade (5 years) planning process as there was a large wave of piecemeal applications in the last half of the 10 year span.

There was some discussion over the referendum, and whether comp zoning should all be under one bill rather than split out. One council member thought that we could have put individual amendments on the referendum, but that we had legal advice suggesting that we should put the entire bill on the ballot. (Gee, imagine how many referendum forms we would have needed to go after every single bad decision contained in Comp-Lite).

Linda Dombrowski (Planning Board) expressed concern that notification of adjoining properties has been inadequate. Ulman proposed being much more active at notifying the community of the proposals. For instance, General Growth sent a letter to everyone in Columbia about their community meeting and that was noted as expensive. Why not do that for the county – perhaps tied into the water bill (or hey, why not the property tax bill). There was also discussion over needing signs posted on the properties (no one seemed to have issue with that idea, but there should be rules on visibility/placement of the signs). There was also some discussion that technology allows easier notification than ever before. There was also a suggestion for creating e-mail distribution lists.

Ulman said that the Chatham Mall owner didn’t know his property was being considered for an overlay until after it was granted (and someone sent him a congratulatory letter at that point, but no one owned up to it. There was a guess that it was the assessment department.) Another case was mentioned where the county notified the surrounding properties but not the owner of the property being rezoned. (Shouldn't the owner be directly contacted by the zoning board before their property is being reviewed, and could they insist that it not be changed?)

Linda (PB) also underscored the split in the community between those who want a bedroom community and those who want a metropolitan area- a topic that was not adequately followed up upon. That creates a lot of the controversy and turmoil during re-zoning. Creating a common vision for the county could help reduce the division.

Ulman did also state that rezoning had been “an incredibly open process” and expressed his anger that people say the council didn’t listen- the council members did all emphasize the constant flow of individuals who came to them to discuss the issues. (They listened, but they didn’t value the citizen’s input in many cases!). Ulman also said he wanted to find ways to defuse the confrontation between developers and the citizens. Ulman also stated “by no means do I want the community running the process- that’s the council’s job”, and “at some point, you elect people and hope they make the right decisions.” It created an impression he would rather not be bothered by the citizen’s discontent. Additional comments were “don’t underestimate our understanding of how the community feels” maybe they understand, but do they value citizen input or care about our concerns?) , and Ulman or Guzzone said of rezoning “it’s what the people want”. Guzzone said that rezoning used to be quasi-judicial, to prevent backroom wheeling-dealing, but said, in some frustration, that it has permitted the opposite, allowing citizens to push for special consideration

Ulman noted that the property next to the Mars foodstore loading dock (St Johns Lane) was inappropriate for residential use. Gee… if that’s true, there are MANY properties near Rt 40 and other highways that should be rezoned for commercial. Wouldn’t some landscaping or fencing solve most of the problem?

There was some discussion that the text amendments should be a separate earlier process rather than tied to the map changes. There are some properties where a text change has strong impact on what can be developed, even without a map change.

Dave Grabowski (former president of GECA/Greater Elkridge Community Association who was added to the Planning Board near the end of Comp-Lite) was asked by Merdon about why citizens weren’t as active in comp-lite; David responded that he felt
that people got tired as the process went on and on, and then felt short-changed at this late stage of the process. He also said that at the end, as the council was adding properties to be considered, all the Planning Board had time to do was a cursory look.

Linda (PB) offered to the council that she and her citizen’s board talk to community and developers to get input on how the process should change. That seemed to be supported by the council but they seemed to want county employees to be the ones gathering input instead of the citizen based Planning Board. The council also talked about getting ideas from neighboring counties, and the PB wants to look at other model counties from other parts of the country as well.

Merdon suggested that the General Plan was only useful as a set of guidelines rather than a firm plan because so much of the language could be interpreted in different ways by developers or the community.

There was also discussion over needing more consideration of how a zoning change would affect the budget (i.e. need for roads and other infrastructure). That seemed to have been overlooked in many cases or given limited consideration.

hocomd said...

Worst Bi-Partisan Moment? I don't know if Merdon belongs to the same list-serv but the fact that he read that note without mentioning a name seems to be ok to me.

What happened after? Did someone say something?

I imagine it was in response to a question about Ulman's proposed changes. What an elegant way to respond. Let me share with you an opinion that mirrors mine - but this one was written by a prominent democrat.

Ulman must have been pretty red-faced.

Anonymous said...

The general rule of list-servs is that what is said on the list-serv should stay there unless given specific permission by the writer to use it in another way. It doesn't matter that he didn't use the persons name and just mentioned that is was a prominant elected democrat. If he did get permission, then there he was perfectly within his right to read it.

Hayduke said...

Dave: Dunn was entertaining, but he needs to work on his delivery. Plus www.SlowGrowthDunbar.com never gets old for me. I agree, however, that there were too many council candidates. I understand the desire to include them all at once, but in practice, it’s just too much and we’re left without a strong sense of how any of them feel on these issues.

Mary Catherine: I didn’t mean to imply that the criticism Ulman received was a bad thing. I think it was clearly a good thing, and I’m sure he would admit that, too. I also think he responded to the criticism well, pulling the proposal and pushing for more discussion.

With respect to improving the process, aside from Ulman’s ideas about community planning districts, the reforms he has announced speak to many of the issues raised by COPE, LWV and others. Better notification of residents, more conveniently scheduled meetings, making technical staff reports available earlier and mediation are all parts of the proposal that Ulman still plans to introduce, and many are exact mirrors of the comments you’ve provided from local groups.

He took a chance by including a bold change to our zoning process in a proposal that also included these procedural fixes, and though his community planning districts may be on hold for now, the immediate, more pressing needs are, I think, being addressed.

But you have a better grasp on these things than I do.

Hocomd: My problem isn’t that he didn’t mention the elected Democrat’s name – though it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who he was talking about. My concern is that listservs should not become fodder for politicians to go after each other.

Anon: Thanks for the info on the listserv rules. I would presume that he got permission, but it still doesn’t change the fact that I think reading the email was unseemly. HCCA is a nonpartisan organization (for a reason), and I don’t think its discussion forum should be used for partisan gain. I’d say the same thing if Ulman read a letter from a prominent Republican criticizing Merdon.

hocomd said...

I don't think we should consider it a criticism of Ulman - himself. I think Ulman has the best intentions. I would call it a critcism of the proposal.

Anonymous said...

Une autre faux pas par Monsieur Merdon avec l'e-mail? Quelle dommage.

Mary Smith said...

Wow, perceptions differ. I wouldn't have thought anyone would term the outspoken guy a 'heckler'. And Ulman was painfully curt in his response. After that meeting, it seemed as though Ulman wouldn't draw a single percentage point, even in the primary, but I'm once again astounded at the variation in perceptions.

Hayduke said...

Why not call him a heckler? He interrupted while someone else had the floor. What's more, he tried to correct Ulman on something where Ulman was right (there are no height limits in NT zoning, but the planning board can apparently limit the height of a given structure), and persisted even as Ulman tried to answer.

mary smith said...

If that was heckling, then what is hissing, booing, noise-making? Extreme heckling? He was had a serious concern, and the interchange cleared the air for anyone else with the same concern, a productive outcome not achievable through 'heckling'. Not the most polite, but not 'heckling'.

Hayduke said...

From Webster's: "Heckle 1. To attempt to annoy or embarrass by questions, satrical comments or objects: BADGER."

Seems like heckling to me.

I never questioned his concerns, though they were predicated on information that was, to some extent, wrong and, to a larger extent, irrelevant to the functions of the county council, zoning board, or county executive. I questioned his tactics. The forum had a specific procedure for how questions would be asked and he chose not to follow it.

mary smith said...

Your grasp of the language is laudable - I stand humbly corrected after researching.

Still not sure what to term booing and hissing, since it's not 'heckling'.

Any rate, Ulman's curt reaction hit me harder probably because this is the first time I've seen him speak publicly. His countenance, manner of speaking, and expressions seem to need the work of a good campaign manager/coach. While possibly rooted in insecurity, his manner is not viewed as innocuous by many (based on comments going around behind where I sat in the meeting, and opinions in newspapers).

Still, the goal of a heckler seems to be to embarrass - a subjective item with latitude for interpretation - I maintain that the guy just wanted answers that he wasn't getting elsewhere.