Monday, December 08, 2008

Abusing a Right

The right to petition the government through referendum is a key component of our democracy. Unfortunately this right can be abused by anti growth activists to overturn zoning decisions they don’t like.

Such appears to be the case with the Howard County Citizens for Open Government or HiCCOG. This new group has been formed primarily to overturn Council Bill 58 which allows a 55,000 square foot grocery store in a Planned Golf Course Community as opposed to an 18,000 square foot grocery. Turf Valley is the only community in Howard County that has this PGCC zoning designation and the change was requested by the developer of a proposed shopping center in that community. The majority of the people in the communities surrounding the project seem to be in favor of this change and it was unanimously approved by the county council. Hiccog has launched a petition drive to overturn this decision through a referendum.

Who the heck is Hiccog?

As near as I can tell Hiccog is primarily Marc Norman and Frank Martin. These two guys have been frequent opponents of the Mangione family plans for Turf Valley. Undoubtedly they will be joined in their referendum crusade by other anti growth activists in the county. They need only to get 5,000 signatures of registered voters in less than 60 days to get this issue on a ballot.

While some may think that an insurmountable task, it is not really as difficult as it sounds. Picture the shopper coming out of the grocery store on a cold Saturday afternoon being approached by a petition pusher.

“Are you a registered voter in Howard County?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Would you sign our petition from Howard County Citizens for Open Government?”

Open government? Sure, who doesn’t want open government?”

“Sign here.”

No doubt some folks will actually read the referendum language but I’m guessing that when its 30 degrees outside and you have a load of groceries, most folks will simply sign away without asking too many questions. Besides, referendums are all part of a healthy democracy aren’t they?

When used properly yes. When used to fight a minor zoning squabble, not so much in my opinion.


Then fire away.


Freemarket said...

I agree that putting such a small zoning measure to a referendum is overkill. I think that citizen participation in voting on council bills (with a decrease in voting power of the council) would actually be a good idea, and I have blogged about it (too lazy for a link). However, second guessing the council with a referendum over issues like this is a little absurd.

What does the 'I' in HICCOG stand for?

wordbones said...

I just threw that "i" in there because HCCOG reminded me of hiccup.
Just a little poetic license that's all.

Anonymous said...

I think that starting with a small zoning issue is a great way for the County to recognize, as they are starting to do, that they are subject to the citizens of their county. I think your information is incorrect about the support...there is minimal support, while majority of the people that live in the area are against it. The infrastructure cannot sustain the development, it is out-dated.

B. Santos said...


How about HC2-foG?


piling on bare assertions do not carry the discussion. Where is the data?

Anonymous said...

Are the people leading the call for this referendum the ones who were so threatening during public council meetings that the police were brought in?

Anonymous said...

Oh stop WB, now you're just looking ridiculous.

Anyone with a wit of sense who follows local news knows that taxpayers are rarely afforded the option to vote on split decision, indeed, ANY decisions.

It's more restrictive now now than ever with judges overturning legitimate signatures and petitions.

Go inside. You're skittish from your own shadow on this one.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:22 - Your statement is perpetuating a LIE.

This mindset is the cause of the @!@##$#$@#! civility campaign.

wordbones said...

Anon 2:11

I've never shied from looking ridiculous.


Anonymous said...


What's too small and what's too large? Was comp lite too large?
These residents have every right to vote on this, particularly since the divide among those affected was so deep and only one side was curiously represented by a council that claims to represent all fairly.

Freemarket said...

Well anon, since you are so interested in my opinion, here goes: I don’t know when something becomes too large or too small for referendum any more than I know when hot water becomes cold or when a fetus becomes a baby. I can, however, look at this matter and determine that IMHO referendum is overkill.

I am obviously not disputing the right of HICCOG to pursue whatever action they think is right, but understand that our democracy also grants me the right to criticize them for whatever action they take.

Btw, just because you did not like the decision made by the council on this bill, that does not mean that the council did not listen to all sides in making their decision. I personally think that the council caters far too much to anti-growth activist groups.

Anonymous said...

Where did I say I didn't like the decision made by the council?

Citizens have the right to referendum and it's strangely underutilized in Howard.

It is quite possible to be neutral on the cb58 while also being in favor of citizens voting on permanent changes (and this is a CHANGE, folks).

Anonymous said...

From: Angie Beltram
To: Angie Beltram
Sent: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 12:06 PM
Subject: Re: [howard-citizen] your opinion on referendum CB 58

What has been left out of all of the emails are some of the concerns I have had
about CB 58 the Zoning Regulation that in a few words changed the intent of the PGCC
(Planned Golf Community Concept).

Although, technically this was NOT a "rezoning", the impact of the decision was such
as to change a significant element to the land use.

This is not the first time the County Council has chosen to approve such Zoning
Regulation Amendments (ZRA). CB 58, however, is a change worth discussing.

At the public hearing, the opponents asked for an additional 30 days in order to
apprise the County Council of some of the issues surrounding elements of the Route
40 Enhancement Committee report; the changes that have occurred on Route 40 in the
last 4 years (as the Report sits on the shelf); the impact on the shopping in
Waverly Woods, approximately 1/2 mile from the Turf Valley site; the need for
protection of the older communtiy where access to the shopping center will impact
because of the lack of sidewalks and curbs; the need for a discussion as to why the
commercial road that leads to the hotel complex could not be used instead (owners
state it is a "private" road), etc.

The Council chose not to grant this request. Soon after that, the Council wrote a
letter to the Planning Board asking them to take as much time as it needs to analyze
any ZRA's that GGP may need after regulations are written. Why is the redevelopment
in Columbia more inportant that the redevelopment of property in Ellicott City? One
can say that this issue is only about one site. However, citizens in Columbia has
never experienced ZRA's as have the rest of the residents outside of Columbia.
Beware - it will happen in the future!

At the public hearing, the proponents of CB 58 most of whom live in the Legends
testified that they want the "convenience" of the larger store, etc. They also
chose to label those neighbors in other parts of the community as "disgruntled
obstructionists." A County Council member, at public gathering stated that
opponents of CB 58 were "anti-growth and progress." So....I have to conclude that
those citizens that were against the WCI height, and those questioning some of GGP
plans, and those against certain elements of the redevelopment of Wilde Lake, and
the opponents of a car lot near a country road in Daisy, and the citizens outcry at
Cattail Creek, are "disgruntled obstructionists" and are anti-growth and progress!

At two HCCA Board meetings in November and December, under the leadership of
President Bridget Mugane the referendum was supported both times by the majority
present and voting. Now it has been deterermined that this issue is to be presented
to the list serve where you can express your opinion.

There has been undue pressure from members of the County Council, not only on the
President of HCCA but on the other board members and certain activists in the
County. Someone once said that the "Constitution and Bill of Rights" are messy.
George Bush knew that and decided to ignore or abuse them. Government officials
always support the "right to referendum" until it impacts a decision they made. It
is not just the Howard County officials who regard referendum as an insult to them,
but also all of the branches, Executive, Legislative and Judicial.

Should HCCA take a position that is "controversial"? Haven't we done that before?
Or that may anger the Government officials? What is the nature of "citizen

Why is this CB 58 raising such a ruckus from the elected officials. Is it that a
large grocery store is so important to them? Or is it because they might "lose"
this issue?

If other issues are of concern to you, please let me know. I will be glad to
discuss them with you. Phone: 410-465-6206

Angie Beltram

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Ms Beltram.
Let me see if I understand. The opinion and tyranny of a minority should enslave the rule of the majority or the elected officials of the majority?
If you want to bitch and moan, that's OK. Don't try to stop the progress that's been legitimately obtained through our governmental processes.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that Beltram posted that. It was probably some merry prankster.

wordbones said...

Ya gotta love those merry pranksters.


Anonymous said...

Just don't drink their kool-aid or ride on their bus.

Anonymous said...

The tricks on me. I'm sorry but it did sound so much like Angie.

Anonymous said...

Angie said it, but I posted it.

I'm sure not all your readers suffer the myopia evidenced by HH's spew on this topic.

It was posted for their benefit.

Calling one referendum per year abuse is abuse of expression. That was the worst misrepresentation I've seen on this blog of misrepresentations.

Anonymous said...

I am sure you are aware, Mr. or Mrs. Prankster, that a large number of HCCA members are rejecting this referendum, especially those members who live nearest to Turf Valley.

Anonymous said...

Not a prank, and yes, there is a deep divide in the turf valley community over this issue.

and you are right, HCCA is not supporting the referendum. Thanks for supporting my assertion that WB is not as, "clear" shall we say, on his rendition of a supposed conversation with a petitioner.

Anonymous said...

My apology to Ms Beltram for thinking that your assertions were coming from her. I wonder if your assertions of her assertions are accurate. Would she have approved your comments? In the future please never take the license to speak for me like you have for Ms Beltram. Sounds to me you have too much time on your hands.

Anonymous said...

HH- let me clarify. Beltram did write that in the form of an e-mail to the HCCA listserv. Some merry prankster copy and pasted it as a comment on this blog.

I don't know about you, but if anyone put my phone number in a comment on a blog, I would kick their ass.

Anonymous said...

I can't disagree with you.
However, in Ms Beltram's situation having served on the County Council, she might not object.

Anonymous said...

Did it ever occur to you that she was asked first?

Your problem is that you think everyone operates like you do.

Anonymous said...

Some observations....

- Generally, 10% of petition signatures are routinely invalidated. That being said, you can't be too careful when dozens of people are collecting signatures and you don't know what quality control standards to expect from each one. You either meet the requirement within 60 days or you're out of luck.

- Developer resources, influence and legal tactics are generally successful in commanding the political and legal arenas. The ONE aspect of the zoning and growth process where they can't exert disproportionate control is when issues are placed on the ballot. This is the one vehicle where citizens have considerable influence and power.

- A few of the reasons that citizens from across the county have been motivated to take CB58 to referendum are:

1. The attempt to rezone a single property for the express benefit of one owner is clearly "spot zoning" which the Council should have referred to the Zoning Board. Unfortunately, development attorneys have learned that it's much easier to push a ZRA text amendment through the Planning Board/Council than it is to meet the legal "change & mistake" burden required by the ZB.

2. As a text amendment, there was absolutely NO requirement to notify neighborhoods bordering the one affected property. Furthermore, the ZRA was mistitled by DPZ, without any reference to Turf Valley or the property owner.

3. The Turf Valley developers chose not to submit the complete ZRA application (from DPZ's website). They chose not to report financial contributions to 5 out of 6 elected county officials as well as the DEPUTY DIRECTOR of DPZ !!!

4. CB58 represents a significant change to the Route 40 business corridor. Rather than being reviewed in the context of a Route 40 Master Plan, utilizing current retail market demand and traffic information, the Bill was approved under the misnomer of being a local neighborhood grocery store that was welcomed by the majority of areas residents and businesses (both of which are egregious misrepresentations).

The overwhelming concensus of citizens, taxpayers and registered voters is that the vast majority of people support well planned and managed development that is supported by forward funded infrastructure improvements and public amenities.

So much for being an obstructionist ;-)...