In March, the Howard County Council rejected County Executive Allan Kittleman’s (R) proposal to eliminate the county’s storm water remediation fee, with a vote of 4-1 against the measure. Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) cast the lone vote in favor of elimination.
“We’ve had overwhelming support for maintaining the storm water fee,” said Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4).
Fox, however, said conversation about the fee was “far from over.”
Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) said she didn’t think it prudent to give up a dedicated revenue source without a clear picture of cuts that might be required in other priorities to accommodate it.
Although he voted against the measure, Councilman Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) said he was “looking forward to further discussion,” and submitted his own related legislation that would authorize additional credits against Watershed Protection and Restoration Fees and would amend schedules to various charges for those fees.
During the council’s public hearing in March, Clarksville Resident Allan Schneider raised concern that the credits suggested by Weinstein could amount to 100% for some businesses. “Organizations that are contributing the most may be able to escape entirely any payment at all,” he said. “There’s a problem there; we’ve got to find a way to fund it.”
Cole Schnorf, speaking on behalf of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, said his organization favors legislation to amend the schedules.
“By reducing the maximum fee from 20% of the property tax bill to 5% of the property tax bill over a three-year period, the most egregious cases of disproportionality will be addressed,” said Schnorf. “Another concern is that the fee can result in the loss of property value.”
He added that the sole area of concern not addressed is that of the county’s disadvantage in competing for corporate relocations with surrounding jurisdictions that have eliminated their watershed protection fees.
Addressing the administration’s proposed reorganization of county government, the council tabled a bill transferring certain functions of the Department of Housing and Community Development to the Department of Citizen Services in order to study the recommendation more closely.
Kittleman withdrew similar legislation that sought to relocate the Office of Transportation from within the Office of County Administration to the Department of Planning and Zoning.
Howard County Economic Development Authority Executive Vice President Vernon Thompson informed the council of two projects requiring council approval to secure Maryland Department of Commerce financing.
The first seeks approval of a $750,000 Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund (MEDAAF) loan in support of MedStar Health’s 10-year lease of 97,000 square feet in the Howard Hughes Corp.’s Crescent project, at the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway.
The second seeks approval of a $150,000 MEDAAF loan for the Cefalu’ Co.’s CGC Holdings for a 160,000-square-foot lease of a to-be-constructed facility on Assateague Drive, which is being developed by Manekin Corp.
Bike Master Plan
With years of planning and coordination work complete, Howard County’s first Bicycle Master Plan has been submitted to the county council for approval. It is accompanied by a Complete Streets policy for the county that envisions road configuration changes and lane markings where appropriate to improve bicycling safety.
According to the county’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Chris Eatough, an amendment has been submitted that removes a pathway along the Little Patuxent River in the Allview community from the plan and reroutes the connection along Broken Land Parkway.
While supportive of the overall plan, Allview resident Mike Compson acknowledged that he doesn’t want to see the secluded character of his neighborhood changed, and stressed that periodic flash flooding and subsequent high water that doesn’t drain for days make the proposed path a safety concern for children. “The other issue is the cleanup of debris after every flood,” he said.
Ted Markle, of Columbia, however, said the river path is safer overall and the most critical component of the plan, connecting downtown Columbia and points west with Kings Contrivance, Savage and other points south and east.
“There are paths behind many peoples’ houses in Columbia; I’m not sure why that’s a NIMBY attitude for residents of Allview,” he said. “It strikes us as not following the vision of Columbia in Howard County, where everybody participates.”
Ronald Strup, a board member of the Highland Crossroads Association, said his organization favors the plan but would like to see plans for his community brought forward from the long-term into the short-term range.
The only opposition to the plan came from Laurel resident Judy George, who asked if the Bowling Brook community would be compensated for aligning the path through privately-owned property.
Consisting of short-term, medium-term and long-term projects, the plan contains infrastructure upgrades and extensions extended during the next 30 years. Funding for short-term projects providing 95 miles of new bicycle facilities at an estimated cost of $32 million is expected to come from grants, developer contributions and county capital projects.
“It includes 15 miles of upgrades to existing [trails] and 46 spot improvements, mostly at intersections,” Eatough said.
There is also a short-term recommendation to make cosmetic improvements to the pedestrian bridge over Route 29 in Columbia and improve the bridge’s pathway approach.
In late March, Kittleman announced a $2.6 million commitment in his fiscal year 2017 Capital Budget to renovate the Howard County Library System’s (HCLS) Central Branch in Columbia.
He also announced the inclusion of $1.3 million to begin construction of a new HCLS Elkridge Branch that will also include a Do-It-Yourself Education Center and a new 50+ Center. Groundbreaking for the Elkridge Branch library is scheduled for May 16.
The new Elkridge Branch will feature a state-of-the-art education hub for students of all ages, and will provide related items for loan such as house repair and gardening tools, as well as bicycle repair kits. An additional $2.9 million will be included in the fiscal 2018 Capital Budget to furnish and equip the facility.