The reasons are becoming obvious from Erskine’s testimony as the only witness and the REFUSAL of the AGC lawyer, Lydia Lawless, to state the charges to either Ms. Gray or Mr. Dyer OR Judge Silkworth, saying she will only “summarize them in “closing statements” after the trial”. So, the question is:
July 21, 2005 To: the Howard County Council/ Zoning Board From: Margaret Whyte, 8635 Reservoir Road, Fulton, 20759
Re: Maple Lawn Petition Amend the Preliminary Development Plan of Howard County so as to increase density on newly acquired acreage for Maple Lawn TND
My major concern re: this petition is the arbitrary increase of density in an already approved NTD, Maple Lawn Farm, a Mixed Use Development located in Fulton, MD.
I have enjoyed living in this County for 45 years. Because of the foresight and efforts of The Howard County Citizens Association, long before my husband and I moved here, Howard County was one of the first counties in the country to adopt planning and zoning, to safeguard orderly development, sensitive to environmental as well as economic issues.
A fine office of planning and zoning was included in the County’s administration in the 1950’s and 60’s. Citizen involvement in hearings and the planning process was welcomed by County Government.
As a past president of the Howard County League of Women Voters I was intensely involved in the modifications/variances necessary to the County plan in light of the proposed new town of Columbia, MD in the 1960’s and onward.
At that time, we received the assurances of the developers that open space, density, aesthetics, housing for every income level would adhere to the guidelines proscribed by the County and concerned citizens. As we know now, that was not the case: Open Space was interpreted as parking lots, side walks, shopping centers. A paucity of affordable housing has forced the county’s work force, including teachers, police, firefighters and others to live outside the County. The promises to us in those early days were broken.
Parkland is at a premium. Columbia, for all the rhetoric and scrutiny, is not the bold, new experiment it set out to be. It is congested, crowded, and fraught with crime, drug dealing, inferior housing.
So, as a burnt child dreads the fire, I am skeptical of the proposal that density be increased in the thus far orderly proposal of Maple Lawn Farms TND.
I feel that the integrity of the County, in its judicious zoning decisions, is being challenged by this new proposal. Arbitrary alteration of approved site plans can be disastrous. And it sets a dangerous precedent for the future.
We have, in the past week, seen the results of lack of County oversight. In the past few days, The Montgomery County Executive and Council have found it necessary to declare a moratorium on all new home building. This is what happens when changes occur and oversight and enforcement are lacking. It is what happens when the voices of concerned citizens are ignored for months while problems fester and grow..
It is imperative that the problems resulting from increased density, overcrowded roads, and an overtaxed system be avoided through orderly planning and zoning. In Howard County we have a system that works most of the time. It is in the interest of orderly development and adherence to zoning decisions that I ask the Zoning Board to refuse any proposed variance in density to the Maple Lawn Farm TND.
Thank you for your patient attendance to this request.
Though a decision was handed down by Maryland's second highest appeals court nearly a month ago, the aftershocks of a citizen-led campaign to bring multiple zoning decisions to referendum continue to play out, this time in a bitter dispute over a County Council resolution. Bill Erskine, an attorney for several developers involved in the referendum case, is up for reappointment by the council to the Board of Directors for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, and members of the Citizens Working to Fix Howard County have come out strongly against renewing his term. They argue that Erskine's career as a land-use attorney at Howard County firm Offit Kurman, coupled with his position on the board, gives him undue influence in county zoning decisions. In testimony against the appointment in July, many also brought up his decision to serve petitioners with subpoenas in the referendum case.
"We are all law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who now face being handcuffed and sent to jail," petitioner Bob Cantor testified at the time. "Mr. Erskine is the wrong leader for the HCEDA simply because his legal actions do not represent the EDA." "This is wrong, this is America, land of the free and home of the brave, where we grew up thinking we could say what we think and speak our mind, said petitioner Ron Coleman. "We do not think [Erskine] deserves the honor of serving on this board using those kind of tactics against the citizens of Howard County, and we will stand against it as long as we have breath in our bodies." Erskine testified that the opposition was referendum-related backlash, not an indictment of his time on the HCEDA board, where he currently serves as chair. While referendum supporters believe that Erskine's subpoenas were meant to intimidate future petitioners, he contends that questioning them was a valid part of building his case. "I think it's very clear that this really is not about Bill Erskine, because one thing that you have not heard tonight is one single act or one single omission about anything I have done or failed to do while serving on the HCEDA board," Erskine told the council. A lawsuit appealing the Howard County Board of Elections' decision not to place the referendum petition question on the ballot this November was denied by the Court of Special Appeals in August. HCEDA director Larry Twele testified in support of Erskine, saying that the organization's "reach has extended tremendously" since he became chair. Twele pointed out that the HCEDA's bylaws prohibit the organization from participating in the zoning process. Though introduced at the beginning of July, Erskine's reappointment has been tabled. The council's next opportunity to vote for or against his reappointment is at its legislative session on Oct. 6. The HCEDA's board has fiduciary oversight over the organization and is responsible for its strategic direction, according to its website. The board meets once a month and is composed of a dozen private-sector professionals, including Sang Oh, the other land-use attorney in the recent referendum case. Other members come from local businesses and organizations, including Howard County General Hospital, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and BGE. A host of new appointees to the board, including Howard County Chamber of Commerce CEO Ron Meliker, Columbia Association President Milton Matthews and Howard County General Hospital President Steven Snelgrove, were proposed in legislation introduced this month. Read more:
Pro Bono referendum attorneys, Susan Gray, and Allen Dyer, non-partisan candidate for the Board of Education, argued their rights to have filed appeals, and protect their clients' first amendment rights in not having discovery allowed in an election case. Typically, even on an appeal case, you cannot take discovery and add new facts to the record without specific allegations, which were not made in this case. Also, in election law cases, the right to free speech, especially political speech, is protected by the first amendment. During this referendum process, volunteers have been harassed, intimidated, demanded to have video depositions taken of them, without scheduling dates, and even threatened with arrest, when the right to take these depositions was on appeal. Now, Judge Tisdale in the Howard County Circuit Court, has awarded sanctions of $6000 against Attorneys Gray and Dyer, stating that they should have filed a protective order to avoid discovery, instead of appealing his decision to grant it, even though, Judge Tisdale, had just denied the same protective order, with the same circumstances, the same week that Attorney Erskine filed new subpoenas. It is a sad day in Howard County when citizens are not only refused the right to petition local laws, by Board of Elections decisions that stated no reasoning, but the appeal court has upheld this right of the Board of Elections to do this, and now the Circuit Court has even ruled that Pro Bono attorneys fighting to protect the first amendment rights of their clients, are to be sanctioned and pay the developers. Submitted by Lisa Markovitz