Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Is Comp Lite even legal?

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, September 15, 2006

First some background on comp lite – abbreviated version.

As we know, every ten years the zoning board (County Council) goes through a once-a-decade comprehensive zoning of the county which they most recently did in 2004. Comp Lite is the name given to a rezoning bill the Zoning Board passed in March 2005. The bill was so named because it was an addendum to the larger comprehensive zoning bill.Why do they have “comp-lite”? Well the number of changes that the zoning board is petitioned to make are not always included in the comprehensive zoning process. As Guy Guzzone explained to the Howard County Times in January 2005:

“There were a number of different map changes that, for whatever reason – mostly our desire to have more information – we delayed until this point,” said Guzzone, explaining why the council didn’t address the issues under comprehensive rezoning.

In other words during comprehensive rezoning the zoning board considers a number of zoning requests.  They can’t always address them at that time.  If they can’t be addressed at that time they can be addressed during “comp lite” because they were presented to the zoning board during comprehensive rezoning.  According to the County Code, if they were not presented during comprehensive rezoning they are not supposed to be considered during “comp lite”.

These are not the only two options that land owners have to petition for zoning changes.  Individual property owners can go to the zoning board on an ad hoc basis to petition for zoning changes. The zoning board deliberates on them one at a time unlike comprehensive rezoning or “comp lite” at which time the zoning board reviews many properties at the same time under one bill.

End background

As reported in June 2005 by the Howard County Times

“This year for the first time, the council deferred its review of some parcels under consideration in comprehensive rezoning, setting them aside for an appendix dubbed “Comp Lite.” In doing so, the council also allowed a number of new properties into the process.”

Thus the basis of my question.

By permitting “a number of new properties into the process” did the zoning board “break the law”?

According to the County Code, Title 16, subtitle 2:

Reconsideration of certain proposals.

(1) When exercising its comprehensive zoning authority, the county council may reconsider, for up to one year after the effective date of the comprehensive zoning ordinance, certain comprehensive zoning map decisions it made on individual property proposals and proposed text amendments requested during comprehensive zoning pursuant to section 16.203(c) and denied by the council.

(2) If the county council decides to reconsider any map proposal, it will be identified and reconsidered in relation to the development corridor or planning area in which it is located and any studies completed regarding that development corridor or planning area and the comprehensive zoning regulations. If the county council decides to reconsider any text proposal, it will be identified and reconsidered in relation to any studies regarding that proposal and the comprehensive zoning regulations.

(3) The county council shall send the list of proposals to be reconsidered to the department of planning and zoning and the planning board for its recommendations. Before the planning board makes its recommendation, it shall hold a public hearing at which parties of interest and citizens shall have an opportunity to be heard on any proposal to be reconsidered. The planning board shall provide at least thirty (30) days notice of the time and place of the beginning of such public hearing in at least two newspapers of general circulation in Howard County.

(4) After receipt of the recommendations of the department of planning and zoning and planning board, the county council may introduce a bill proposing the adoption of a comprehensive zoning ordinance which shall be limited to the reconsidered map and text proposals.

(5) The county council shall adopt the comprehensive zoning plan on the reconsidered map and text proposals by ordinance according to its county council bill procedures.

No where does the statute make any reference to adding “a number of new properties into the process” but only reconsideration of properties in comprehensive rezoning.

The Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church should not have been included in “comp lite” since it wasn’t considered during comprehensize rezoning. Jumping late into the game allowed them to circumvent months of community review and input (something near and dear to Ken Ulman). How many of the 40 other properties in “comp lite” were not part of the comprehensive zoning process and should not have been considered under comp lite as a result?  I think the fact that the Bethal Korean Presbyterian Church was included in comp lite makes the entire bill “ILLEGAL”.

What also troubles me is the lawyer for the church, Sang Oh, was a top aide to Jim Robey.  He obviously understands the workings of Howard County Government and one would assume he would understand the “comp lite” process.  As a Howard County lawyer for many years he should understand Howard County law.  What influence, if any, did Mr. Oh have on the process in order to get the church included in “comp lite” when it should not have been?  Was he involved at that time?

During “comp lite” Ken Ulman was the zoning board chairman – the guy in charge. As zoning board chairman why did Mr. Ulman permit this violation of the County Code?  Did he know better?  Did he understand the law?  I am sure he did, he is a lawyer after all?  So what is with that?

Additionally, the church plans were approved by both the Department of Planning and Zoning staff and the Planning Board recommended approval of the rezoning request.  Don’t they know the law either?  If they were in favor of the rezoning request why didn’t the church (and who ever guided them through the process) wait and go through the normal zoning process?  Was the church and its “sponsors” intentionally avoiding community review through the “comp lite” process even though it violated the County Code?

WHO IS IN CHARGE AROUND HERE?

What did Chris Merdon say after being the only councilman to vote against comp lite in March 2005?

“While I was campaigning for office, people told me they wanted less residential development and more scrutiny over the planning process,” Merdon said. “This bill does the opposite.”

(If one were to flash forward to today Ken Ulman sounds just like Merdon.)

Merdon seems to understand that it was a violation of the law.

However, what did the zoning board chairman, Ken Ulman, say after Chris Merdon made his statement?

Merdon’s critique prompted Council member Kenneth Ulman, a Columbia Democrat, to quip: “The campaign for county executive has officially begun … unfortunately.”

What else did the Howard County Times report on March 10, 2005 regarding the immediate aftermath of comp lite?

Merdon, whose district includes the church, sided with the neighbors. He argued that the church’s existing zoning would allow the church to expand but give the community a chance to make its case against the project to a hearing examiner. [In other words, go the piecemeal route like everyone else and don’t try to jump to the front of the line]

The rest of the council disagreed, saying the church’s need to expand outweighed neighbors’ objections.

I don’t live over there and I am offended by those comments.  Why don’t they just say, a thorough review within the bounds of the zoning process would protect the rights of the church and the neighbors.  Pardon me.  Chris Merdon already said that. 

With the fix on the next thing I know I am going to have a couple of 10 story office buildings sitting in my back yard.

What does Ken Ulman say today?

Ulman said he’s frustrated with the current comprehensive rezoning process, which is why he supports a change that would “notify every citizen,” in “a process to engage every citizen,” and also weave funding for capital projects like roads and schools into the new system.

Baltimore Sun, June 14, 2006

Whew – talk about a campaign year conversions.  Alleluia he has been saved.  Ulman had his chance to side with an open process in March of 2005 and showed his true colors then.  Now he stands next to Chris Merdon in the same church pew.  Problem is his music book is out of date and has to lean over toward Chris so he can share Chris’ music sheet.  Welcome aboard Ken!

As for Charlie Feaga’s elitist comments.  Charlie, I trust that the proletarians of Howard County understand and appreciate the zoning process a lot better than you think because, for one thing, this little nuance seem to escaped all of the experts.  For another thing, we are not discussing metaphysics.

I think COPE should sue to have “comp lite” thrown out because if violates the Howard County Code.  While in court perhaps we can discover what other properties were improperly included in comp lite, who sponsored them, and why they sponsored them.

Printable Version

Hayduke’s perspective with interesting commentary.

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10 Responses to “Is Comp Lite even legal?”

  1. Ed&Laura said

    good research. good question. was it illegal? yes. was it arrogant? oh ye3s. was it so typical of the feaga/ulman/developer clique? yes, yes a thousand times yes.

    good for cope! people power is alive. we are ready to fight this arrogance.

  2. Melissa said

    I am just reading this now – I would certainly have gone to thrown in my support but it takes longer than 10 minutes to get there…

  3. Ellen Rhudy said

    If Comp-Lite goes to the ballot, and the COPE people win, what will they developers do next? To be sure, they will never give up the ship. They’ll just come back………..with Comp-No Calorie. The developer hydra will just sprout new heads. That’s why we need to get behind politicians who can butt heads with them; who can act impartially, and who will truly represent the citizens instead of the developers.

  4. hocomd said

    This isn’t a war with developers. Developers and property owners have rights too. This is about balancing the needs of the community with the rights of property owners and finding honest politicians who will respect the rights of all involved. Chris Merdon is that person. Harry Dunbar, I am afraid, would not know where to start – despite his position.

  5. Wes213 said

    This was a great summary of the fiasco called Comp-Lite. I’m 99% sure that Guy Guzzone was the Zoning Board Chairman at that time, although he and Ken sure share more than a seat at the same table. Now Ken and Guy have the audacity to try to rewrite history by offering changes to zoning law to portray themselves as supporting citizen rights in the zoning process.

    From a document dated 3/17/05 on the DPZ website (may no longer be available), it appears the following were latecomers: Terra Maria, St John Baptist Church, Bethel Church, Pine Orchard Lane, Upton Rd(24.91), 6390 Ten Oaks Rd, 13448 Clarksville Pike, 7550 & 7656 Washington Blvd, 11365 Marriottsville Rd, North Chatham Rd, Maier Place (Rt 1). These were additions made by the County Council between 9/15 and 12/22/04 with Planning Board hearings held as late as 2/3/2005. These were in addition to the original set of 25 properties proposed in the initial administration bill (not all were approved). Without extensive research at the DPZ office, it would be difficult to be sure all of the original 25 properties were deferred from Comprehensive Zoning, or that every one of the later additions were not, but it’s a safe bet that most fall along those lines.

    Thus, it appears that some of the appellants in the Comp-Lite court battle were late additions, therefore an illegal part of Comp-Lite and still had the arrogance to file a case against the referendum.

    Mr Ulman’s two faced positioning annoys me even more than Mr Feaga’s elitist comments (and that is difficult to accomplish!). The latest example – he took full credit for the success of the Columbia charette, but after this past week’s traffic study which recommended cutting development roughly in half, his comment was that the originally suggested level of development was ludicrous without public transportation. Who is going to pay for building public transportation systems, where we will get the land to do so and will the network be large enough to allow people to abandon their cars on a regular basis? Perhaps Ken plans to push for a bill to allow the county income tax to be equal to the state tax so we can afford the new Columbia public transportation system.

    While we’re on the subject of lawyers – HOW in the world did a Family Law attorney like Harry Siegel end up in the middle of a hot zoning case? Could he just be a puppet, with someone like Sang Oh behind the curtain?

  6. hocomd said

    Wes,
    You could be right about Guzzone. I based my comment that Ulman was chairman on this article from the HoCo Times that appeared on 6-9-05.

    Zoning Board chairman and County Council member Kenneth Ulman says the referendum essentially renders the Comp Lite bill inert until then, and at least one client has taken that fact as a cue to resubmit her application, this time as a petition for standard piecemeal rezoning.

    The Washington Post refers to him as Chairman in a September 15 and October 27, 2005 articles too.

    Since the Council elects the Zoning Board Chairman once per year Ulman would have been Chairman during the course of the year and been Chairman during Comp Lite.

  7. just a voter said

    Ellen – you are so right.

    There is a candidate that understands the county. He’s educated our kids in the HoCo school system for over 20 years. His name is Steve Wallis and he is an Independent candidate…

    Check out his website – http://www.wallis2006.com/

  8. Wes213 said

    I figured out why I thought Guy was the Zoning Board Chairman during Comp-Lite. Comp-Lite was a legislative process, NOT a Zoning Board process. Thus it was presided over by Guy Guzzone, Council Chairman at the time.

  9. observer said

    Would someone please check KEN ULMAN’s fundraising list and please tell me why PLANNING BOARD MEMBERS are donating to his campaign?? On the surface it looks like they are trying to save their appointed jobs. Is there a QUID PRO QUO here. I give you money. I’ll vote the way you want (comp-lite, plaza towers, etc) and then you reappoint me to my wonderful position so one day I can run for office as a Democrat with a great resume. This is so transparent. Someone please tell me why none of the papers are writing about this!!

  10. […] I am not supporting Courtney in the General Election but this is the first time I can recall that a candidate called comp-lite what it is.  Illegal.  My previous post on the subject is here. […]

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