Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman submitted a government Reorganization Plan to the county council on Dec. 22. The plan proposes to reassign the Office of Transportation (OT) to the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ), separate the Howard County Housing Commission from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and move its programs to the Department of Citizen Services (DCS), and create an Office of Housing and Community Partnerships within the DCS.
“These recommendations are based on an extensive work conducted by county residents on the Transition Team, as well as a work group of community members and DCS and DHCD administrators,” Kittleman wrote in an accompanying letter submitted to Council Chair Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2).
According to the plan, the proposed Office of Housing and Community Partnerships would be responsible for grants management, housing opportunities, a coordinated system of homeless services, community partnerships and the multi-service center. A new function to be created within DCS would be charged with providing services for veterans.
“My Transition Committee found there was a shifting focus from public transportation and roads to place more emphasis on pathways, sidewalks and other transportation elements,” Kittleman wrote. “The Transportation Committee concluded that transportation planning needed to have a larger role.”
The OT could be better integrated in the planning review process by placing it under the DPZ, he said.
Department of Citizen Services Director Phyllis Madachy said more details on the proposal would be forthcoming in the legislation still to be filed with the council.
“Moving programs and staff from the Housing Commission to the Department of Citizen Services creates a good synergy for mutual clients and the nonprofits we fund,” she added. “It’s a mission fit we’re comfortable with.”
Historically, she said, the Housing Commission used to fall under the purview of DCS.
“With that in mind, this direction is not a new one,” Madachy said. “Their staff will be a welcome addition, particularly around the services for veterans. This department tends to be very consumer-focused, and we embrace things of this nature that add value.”
Kittleman contended that separating the Housing Commission from DHCD would strengthen both entities, as well as eliminate perceptions of conflicts of interest when the commission and DCHD are both parties to an agreement or project.
“Separation will eliminate public confusion surrounding the role of the [Housing] Commission and DCHD,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, additional changes are planned for DCS as the department begins addressing recommendations in its recently released report, titled, “Planning for the Growth of the Older Adult Population in Howard County.” The report grew out of a Senior Center Master Planning project funded by Howard County government.
According to the report, the proportion of county residents aged 65 or older is expected to increase from 10.12% as of 2010 to 21.63% in 2035, but the county’s current service structure is not sufficient to address that growth.
Based on study findings of the 1,600 community members who worked on the project, DCS has identified six priorities to help align the county with future needs. They include providing advocacy, services and a safety net for vulnerable adults; promoting the physical, emotional and financial well-being of older adults and their caregivers; ensuring an availability of diverse housing options; providing the appropriate mobility options for an aging population; creating more opportunities for a healthy quality of life; and preparing county residents for personal and community changes that need to be made.
DCS has already begun to act on those recommendations.
“We’ve put four pieces of implementation into a plan that we’ve discussed with the county executive,” Madachy said.
One component entails creating a subcabinet to look at the implications for agencies, policies and programs that serve an aging population. “We want to know where they support older citizens, and where the unintended barriers lie,” she said.
A second component would build upon the early stages of a strategic relationship being formalized with the Columbia Association, focused on shared priorities and strategies.
The final components focus on the population itself at an organizational and personal level. “Aside from aging, there is also a growing cultural diversity in the county,” Madachy said. “We’re approaching a time when we’re expected to reach a majority minority population. We recognize that we have to talk about cultural preferences as part of planning for the future.”
DCS is also encouraging small organizations and groups in the county to ask their own members about concerns and preparations for their future, with the goal of starting a dialogue and generating ideas that citizens can act on.
At the Howard County Council’s December legislative meeting, Ball was named the new council chair, with Councilman Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) serving as vice chair. Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) was chosen to chair the Zoning Board and was also appointed liaison to the Maryland Association of Counties Legislative Committee.
The council elected Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4) to serve as chair of the Board of License Commissioners.
New legislation introduced in December included a bill co-sponsored by Sigaty and Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) aimed at temporarily prohibiting applications for proposed rezonings to the BRX (Business Rural Crossroads) and BR (Business: Rural) zoning districts.
The bill is intended to give DPZ time to study deficiencies in these districts that could lead to development at odds with surrounding residential uses and make recommendations for improvement. Weinstein sponsored legislation that would temporarily prohibit conditional use petitions for two-family dwellings.
“[I]t’s past time to review our land practices and see if they’re harming existing residents,” said Ellicott City resident Angie Boyter, who testified in favor of the legislation. “I do not believe two-family dwellings are compatible with a single-family neighborhood. If the area were appropriate for higher density, then presumably it would have been zoned that way.”
Crofton resident Lorman Lykes, however, opposed the legislation, citing his own decision to file a conditional use petition in 2014 to make better use of a property he owns in Ellicott City.
“I believe it is unfair to change the requirements when I have expended much time and money pursuing approval under the current regulations,” he said. “It would make an unjust precedent for current and future residents on the high standard of law and jurisprudence in the county.”
The council opted to postpone public hearings on BRX/BR legislation and on the county executive’s proposal to phase out the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee.