Thursday, September 14, 2006

Growing debates...

On this blog there are few things I enjoy less than defending politicians who are certainly capable of defending themselves. That said, before we strain our collective neck by nodding in agreement, let’s get a little perspective on the Ulman vs. Merdon showdown.

In the papers today, Chris Merdon leaves no doubt about his plans for the next two months: go after Ulman on the issue of growth. Here’s what he said to the Examiner about the results of the primary and Harry Dunbar’s 5,000 or so votes:

“I think a lot of those votes were protest votes against Ken Ulman’s record on development,” said county executive candidate and Council Member Christopher Merdon, R-District 1, who accused Ulman of pushing a public forum for the redevelopment of Columbia’s Town Center into an urban area, before traffic and school impact studies were prepared.
Meanwhile, in the Post, we get this:
Yesterday, Merdon called Ulman “pro-development” and noted Ulman’s vote for a controversial rezoning bill last year. He also criticized the planning process for redeveloping downtown Columbia, a project championed by Ulman.
Leaving aside the simplistic, “you’re either with us or against us” generalization of “pro-development,” which one could just as easily (and inappropriately) ascribe to Merdon’s record on growth prior to his decision to run for county executive, he attacks Ulman with the old stand-bys of Comp Lite and the charrette. But how much moral authority does Merdon have to criticize based on these issues?

I know I’m delving into a world of rage with this one, but with Comp Lite, Merdon’s vote against it was a great bit of political theater and maneuvering. With respect to actual development in this county, however, it will have almost no impact whatsoever.

These rezonings would (will) happen with or without being tied together in a comprehensive bill – in fact, some have already been granted (with Merdon’s support, no less). Of course, spot rezonings don’t usually draw county-wide attention or the participation that Comp Lite did, making it easy to vote for them and, by extension, more development while covering yourself politically with a meaningless vote on the bigger, controversial package.

As for the Town Center issue, I still think we’re lucky to be having the problems we face. Prior to the charrette, there was hardly any detailed, citizen-oriented long term planning for downtown. Development was up to the whims of the developers (for the most part) and stuff like pedestrian connections, public transportation, infrastructure, public spaces, and cultural facilities were planned on a fractured, ad hoc basis. The charrette and master plan process changed this, and part of why it has taken so long is because creating a truly comprehensive vision for Town Center is a massive undertaking.

Merdon now thinks the process was broken, which is strange because we heard no such complaints from him before the charrette – or at the charrette, which he was more than happy to participate in. It wasn’t until the political winds shifted that he decided to jump on board with criticism for the process, criticism that should largely be directed at those who designed and implemented the process, the Planning department, rather than those who, like Merdon and Ulman, simply approved the funding for it.

Apparently, one of Merdon’s complaints, according to the Examiner, is that the charrette occurred before “traffic and school impact studies were prepared.” But this is exactly how it was supposed to happen. When we create a community plan, do we generally let the details dictate the vision or the vision dictate the details? Of course it’s the latter. If we want to achieve something worthy of our community, we must first craft a vision that suits us and then work through the messy details and compromises need to make it work.

This is exactly how the charrette was supposed to occur. But more importantly, this was the process used to create Columbia itself.

I wonder, too, how Merdon would have addressed the Town Center issue, since all I've heard so far is criticisms and not suggestions from him.

Development debates in this county extend well beyond Comp Lite and Town Center, but these are the only ones worth discussing by some because they can be used for partisan gain. And Merdon, I would wager, has been on the side of development interests probably as often as Ulman, yet now he’s trying to claim the mantle “slow growth” from Harry Dunbar? One wonders how he feels about this development (which is strongly supported by his boy for Governor) or the prospects of large-scale development at Doughoregan or extending the water and sewer boundary.

Now that Harry Dunbar is out, nobody in the county executive race really has any authority to cast stones about development. And the more times we here things like “pro-development” and “slow growth,” the further from reality the debate will drift. These are not simple matters of black and white. However, by trying to paint them as such, politicians may gain something in the short term, but in the long term, the community loses.

14 comments:

hocoblog said...

I think you nailed it. This race is going to talk about development a lot. Both Merdon and Ulman.

Merdon announced his intention to vote against comp-lite in 2004 when the vote took place in March 2005. He said then that what the council was doing was wrong (and it was because it broke the charter/law).

Anyway, we can't get around development in many cases because people have the right to do with their land what the current zoning permits.

When council changes the zoning laws on a whim without proof of a significant change or an error then we have problems. Because that is the low water mark everyone has to meet outside of comprehensive rezoning. In comp-lite Ulman lowered the low water mark. He permitted and then voted for allowing changes to 18 properties that didn't go through comprehensive rezoning. That is illegal Hayduke. It is. I will show you in the County Code. That is why Merdon voted against it. That is the issue on comp-lite and why Merdon won't let it go. Not only would he be foolish to let it go it would be irresponsible to let it go.

That is where the two candidates will be comparing records.

FreeMarket said...

If Ulman did anything illegal, why wasn’t he charged with a crime? That is a serious accusation to make, hocoblog. I haven’t been bored enough to study the County Code, so I don’t know if it was illegal or not, but I do know that if you violate laws, you pay consequences.

hocoblog said...

Not all violations of the law carry penalties like you seem to think. Illegal legislation is passed all the time and legislators don't go to jail for it.

Perhaps you will remember that the courts declared a couple of laws passed by the Maryland General Assembly unconstitutional (a.k.a. illegal).

Look at the code. For a more comprehensive discussion on the topic look at this...

http://hocomd.wordpress.com/2006/07/06/is-comp-lite-even-legal/

It also references the section of the code in question.

hocoblog said...

Freemarket, how timely.

Another bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly has been determined to be unconstitutional.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/politics/bal-psc0914,0,6882467.story?coll=bal-home-headlines

I don't think anyone is going to jail for this either...

Please don't tell me that illegal and unconstitutional are two different things. Google it.

FreeMarket said...

OK, got it. Thanks for bring me up to speed on comp-lite with that first link.

IJustCame2StompMyFeet said...

Really fine post, Hayduke.

Hayduke said...

First off, I'm not sure that a blog post provides conclusive evidence of legality.

But that aside, what I'm wondering is, if the bill was patently illegal in the first place, why would those opposed to Comp Lite put so much effort into having the voters decide on its fate (and run the risk of the voters approving of an illegal law) rather than taking it straight to a judge? I'm not asking to be flippant, either. This is one of the more curious angles of the issue and one for which I haven't heard a sufficient answer.

Reader from Columbia said...

It's a sad state of affairs when the best that can be said of Ken Ulman is that Merdon is no better.

The Democrats will lose the County Executive race unless Ulman does a turnaround on development. It appears he has no intention of doing this.

Instead he says that the Dunbar vote had to do with Dunbar being first on the ballot. H ow insulting is that? There was a very light turnout. We are supposed to belileve that those who were motivated enough to come to the polls then decided just to vote for the first name they saw?

First Ulman insults the voters, then he insults the rest of the public by making such a patently absurd statement about the Dunbar vote.

Democrats can do better than this.

Hayduke said...

Who said this is the best that can be said about Ulman? I'm just trying to point out that Merdon and Republican attacks on Ulman are disingenuous and highly selective.

hocoblog said...

I agree Hayduke, I think COPE made a fatal error in not challenging Comp-Lite on its legality.

My post may not convince you, but the language from the County Code should at least be some what persuasive.

hocoblog said...

Oh yeah. They may be highly selective but they are highly important too.

hocoblog said...

Hayduke, we got our first response from BoE Chairman and candidate Joshua Kaufman.

Tom Berkhouse said...

Hayduke - why don't you just come out and say that no matter what Ulman does, or how much proof there is about it, you will be his #1 defender. Ulman is, after all, your MASTER isn't he?

I've said this before, that your credibility is constantly decreasing. You convey a deep knowledge of the zoning process in Howard County, yet you can't understand how what Ulman did with Comp Lite was illegal? Are you serious?

And, why does it matter that COPE went the referendum route? Isn't that a perfectly legitimate option? Does it make what Ulman (and Guzzone, and Robey) did any less illegal? And, COPE may still pursue a court challenge to the Comp Lite law (and they would win). If Ulman had any sense of ethics, he would propose legislation to undo those cases in Comp Lite that were illegally added and approved. Let those case apply for individual re-zoning cases and see if they pass the legal test that is SUPPOSED to be met (mistake or change).

And, your attempt to try to equate Merdon's support of LEGAL development projects and/or rezonings with Ulman's illegal actions on Comp Lite, and his support of other development projects that don't conform to the established process, is a joke. You apparently live in Wonderland where everything is backwards. There is nothing wrong with supporting legitimate develope that complies with Howard County laws and regulations. There IS something very wrong with Ulman and Guzzone and Robey violating the process to dole out favors to their friends (eg: Sang Oh).

As for the charette process, you once again are "backwards" with your comments about how it was supposed to be done. Chris waited to see and hear what was being proposed and then he made his decision on whether to support it or not. What's sad is how Ulman has DPZ working to do his bididng on the Master Plan proposal so that he can use DPZ to shield himself from the proposal if it is getting public support, which it isn't. The truth is that Town Center is perfectly healthy as it is. It does NOT need to be rebuilt as Ken Ulman's Town Center, with taxpayer dollars being used to construct all of the infrastructure. It's ironic how you and Ulman boasted so openly about how Ellicott City/Columbia was selected as the 4th best place to live in, in the Country, yet you say that development in Columbia has been "up to the whims of the developers", as if GGP and HRD before them didn't put much care or thought into the development of Columbia. If they hadn't, then I highly doubt that Columbia would be the 4th best place to live in. If pedestrian safety improvements such as sidewalks were what you and Ulman were looking for, then why didn't Ulman just go to GGP and work up a Master Plan for pedestrian systems? Why the need for 5,500 residential units and 3 million square feet of commercial space? If you want plazas and fountains, then why not just discuss those types of improvements? Why the push to recreate Town Center? The roads can't handle the extra traffic, there is inadequate water and sewer service, and so on and so on.

As for the order of events, it was known well ahead of the charette, that roads were inadequate based on GGP's prior applications, which proposed less than what is being pushed on the Master Plan. So why would DPZ waste all of this time and money proposing 2-3 times as much development as previously proposed, when it should have been obvious that it wouldn't work? This is exactly why I, and MANY other people (residents in Town Center) believe that the charette was a sham. The outcome was predetermined.

I hope you keep on this path Hayduke, because it will spell disaster for Ulman on Election Day. The citizens already rejected Feldmark (Ulman's sidekick protege), and they will reject Ulman too!

Tom Berkhouse said...

Oh yes. I forgot about the fact that several of the Comp Lite cases are also illegal because they violate case law that forbids "spot zoning". Hayduke, you surely have heard about spot zoning so I shouldn't have to provide a lecture to you, but I can if you request one.

Bethel Korean Church is the main violator. Nothing around that property is zoned POR, yet Ulman, Guzzone, and Robey designated it that zone so that the Chruch would NEVER have to go through a public hearing process for any future expansions. EVERY other church in the County has to go through public hearings, but now Bethel Korean Church won't. I wonder how all the other churches in the County feel about this? Even worse, if the Church wanted to it could develop OFFICE BUILDINGS on the site, without any special approval required.

What will this do for pedestrian safety on St. John's Lane? I realize you don't live there Hayduke, but lots of other people and THEIR children do. What is your thought on that? Shouldn't there have been more thorough studies of traffic and pedestrian routes before Ulman dole out a rezoning approval for the Church? After all, that's how you and he say it should be done, right?

Please elaborate on your position Hayduke, I want to see just how BIG of a HYPOCRIT you really are!!!!!!!!!!!