Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Friday, August 11, 2006

Accountability

HayDuke and I are in absolute agreement that it is great to see a reporter actually fact check. As HayDuke says:

Flier reporter Nate Sandstrom has earned my respect for actually reporting the facts, rather than just repeating dubious claims verbatim. More like this, please.

Reading both of Nate’s articles on the candidates forum also highlights that the number one issue of this election will most likely be zoning/development, which is something I tried to get across to several of the candidates last fall. Zoning and community planning has the greater impact on voters day to day lives than any other issue. It is the leading factor in how long we are stuck in traffic, how easy it is for us to shop where we want to shop, how difficult it is to find parking at our house or where we shop, how crowded our kids schools are, whether those who work in our community can afford to live here, whether those who grew up in our community can afford to stay here, and, as James Rouse has shown us, on the character and values of the children who grow up here. The design of a development can have a huge impact on whether it divides sections of the community or brings people together and builds community. And of course the design of a community has an impact on the health and accessibility of nature in our community as well as an impact on the likelihood of crime in our community.

I was glad to see many of the candidates recognized the importance of accountability to the voters in the zoning process and want to keep the Zoning Board elected. A couple months ago I responded to HayDuke saying that impartiality was a myth when dealing with zoning by saying:

HayDuke declares “impartiality is a myth” when dealing with zoning and I could not agree with him more. I will add that though it is impossible to have impartiality in such matters, but you can have accountability. If the final decision rests with an elected Zoning Board ultimately the voters can keep the zoning process accountable to the citizens through the ballot box.

I went on in a later post to explain further:

There is no such thing as impartiality with such things as zoning decisions, but we can have accountability. That is if the zoning board is elected the voters can hold them accountable. That is the only way the public can have a voice in this very important process. The more the zoning board is separated from the voters the less voice the public will have and the more likely back room deals with developers will be able to go on unchecked. Let’s not throw out accountability in the search for the mythical notion of impartiality.

It is good to see that some candidates are realizing this. Hopefully the others will wake up and recognize that accountability must be the cornerstone of our zoning process.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evan,
Currently the Council makes comprehensive zoning decisions via a legislative process. If you don't like the decision you have the ability to vote out exactly 1 of the 5 councilmen. AND, you apparently can't take the decision to referendum. There is no accountability in the current system for comprehensive zoning.

In the old system for comprehensive zoning, a quasi judicial process was used with the Council sitting as the Zoning Board. You could still only vote out one council person, but you had the recourse of the courts to appeal a decsion you found unfavorable. Slightly more accountability.

In the really old system of comprehensive zoning the Council sat as the Zoning Board in a quasi judicial system. If you didn't like the decision you could vote ALL 5 members out because they were elected at large- not regionally. You could also appeal the decision through the courts. That was FULL accountability.

Each incremental change made in an effort to adapt and adjust to new ways has removed the right of the people.

It isn't just incremental changes made in zoning process as reactive solutions to temporary problems that is an issue... we seem to be making incremental changes to development rules and regulations as solutions for specific properties- which leads to a convoluted mess of laws and regs. The most recent example was the vote to change the setback from 30' to 10' for POR to open space. (Comp Lite would have set it at 0'). Council, thrilled with themselves for finding what they believed was a compromise for the Woodlawn Slavequarters... lost site of the bigger issue which was... you shouldn't change the zoning regulations for the whole county to solve the issues of one specific property or development.

We are getting further and further down the rabbit hole.. and things are getting curiouser and curiouser.

We need a long perspective on zoning and preservation.

We need to follow the General Plan guidelines that are enacted as part of a lengthy public process every ten years and not veer off of those guidelines until a new Plan has been presented.

We need to fix the process, not by posting larger signs, but by examining, thoughtfully, the whole process.. and our goals for that process.

mary catherine

9:23 PM  
Blogger Tom Berkhouse said...

I agree. Laws should not be enacted to address specific parcels. If there is a hardship issue on a certain parcel, then relief can possibly be obtained through the Waiver Petition process, or the Variance process, both of which carry their own requirements for approval. I've said it many times, it is not the system that is broken, it is the people running it (the Council, or at least certain Council members) that need fixing (eg: boot them from office and elect leaders that will enforce the existing laws as they were meant to be). County Executive Candidate Chris Merdon is an example of a person who has demonstrated that he is not beholden to developers. He is the ONLY Council member to vote AGAINST the COMP LITE bill, which violated a number of County laws, as well as general case law precedents relating to zoning matters.

1:42 PM  

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