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Continuing the thoughts of yesterday’s blog I’ll be contrasting CB-38-2019– designed to protect lives in the Patapsco Watershed by strengthening development and subdivision regulations in the Ellicott City Floodplain with CB-42 on development impact fees. 

A major component of CB-38 is putting an end to waivers (which I’m lumping together with the almost indistinguishable alternative compliance, administrative adjustments, and variances). These are all different means by which developers are allowed to ignore our already insufficient regulations on forest conservation, storm water management, building in flood plains or on steep slopes, etc.

When DPZ allows development to proceed without strict enforcement of our weak and ambiguous regulations it often results in land being stripped of forests and completely graded in order to achieve maximum density, even when clearly inappropriate. This in turn results in a higher percentage of impervious surfaces, and thus even more challenging storm water management. This has proven problematic throughout the county. But in Ellicott City is has proven deadly.

I applaud Council Member Liz Walsh for introducing this legislation to protect her constituents. I think many citizens would love to see the same limitations enacted throughout the county, but understand the reality of starting small when one can anticipate resistance.

I was encouraged that while some department heads failed to make time for Ms. Walsh in order to work on amendments together, they did at least show up for the work session. Deputy Directors attended for DPZ and DPW, while the Director of Rec & Parks attended. None the less I could feel my irritation grow at the sound of “We need more time to study the ramifications.” (Keep in mind this bill was pre-filed in June!) I’m hoping they will have completed their review of the amendments before this evening’s Council session. I do soooo enjoy when Ms. Walsh calls them out when deserved for not being prepared, having requested data, etc. I firmly believe this will result in more transparent and efficient government!  [I remain frustrated, however that HoCo frequently skirts the rules themselves when constructing government projects. This models bad behavior for developers who expect to receive the same concessions on their projects.]

Here is a quick comparison of the handling of CB 38 vs. CB 42.

Issue CB-38 protecting EC watershed CB-42  development impact fees
Number of sponsors & co-sponsors 1 4
bill been amended? extensively No
Fought by develop- ment community? Yes Yes
Resisted by County departments? DPW, DPZ,
Rec& Parks
DPZ
Depts. attend
meeting to work on?
NO n/a
Depts. attend work session? Yes by DPW, DPZ, Rec & Parks Neither DPZ nor BoE as requested
Supported by citizens? Yes,
overwhelmingly
All but affordable housing coalitions
Supported by other Council members? Opposition from
Rigby & Yungmann*
Opposition from
Rigby & Yungmann**
Likely outcome 10/7 Tabled Tabled
* Jones not present @ work session ** Jones missed half work session

Ms. Walsh has bravely been on her own with this comprehensive piece of legislation, despite campaign promises to work for this type of legislation from other council members when candidates. It should be noted that Ms. Walsh considered EVERY criticism provided in written and oral testimony and opted to eliminate all provisions which were drawing criticism from the development community or from HoCo department heads. This has left a heavily amended, very bare bones version of the bill. But it is one which provides incremental improvement. It is not PERFECT, but it does represent PROGRESS—a value Ms. Walsh clearly embraces. She is clearly willing to compromise and exhibits the skill and patience to decisively do so.

While work sessions provide a peak into how Council members will vote, it is not always definitive. Sometimes work sessions posing lots of questions appear to be used to offer lengthy explanations for why the Council member will not be voting for something. Absences at work sessions are concerning.

Logic would dictate that EVERY council member could vote in favor of this amended bill given the stripping of ALL objectionable terms and conditions to satisfy both developers and Department Heads. But it has been my experience as an observer that logic seemingly plays little role in government affairs. I fear CB-38 will simply be tabled ‘for further input’.  Citizens who share my viewpoint can accept that, but ONLY IF CB-40, EXTENDING BY 3 MONTHS THE MORATORIUM ON BULDING in the Tiber and Plumtree watersheds IS PASSED.  I’d bet that Council members NOT supporting CB-40 and eventually CB-38 will be clearly identified as having conflicts of interest from accepting developer monies and may become “one-termers.”

Gosh, that’s two bets in two days!

Attend or tune in to tonight’s session at 7pm on Comcast channel 99 or Verizon channel 44 or by streaming https://cc.howardcountymd.gov/Online-Tools/Watch-Us

—-And meet me on the high road,

Susan