Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced an ambitious slate of transportation infrastructure projects in January, including widening Route 32 from a two-lane undivided highway to a four-lane divided highway between Route 108 and I-70. Work is scheduled to begin this year on the initial stretch between Route 108 and Linden Church Road.
“[This] is one of the most congested and dangerous sections of highway in the entire state,” Hogan said, traveled by more than 30,000 vehicles per day and with ridership expected to nearly double to 58,000 vehicles per day by 2035.
The $152 million project provides $33 million for the initial phase of construction, split between the state and Howard County. An additional $107 million in state funding will be provided for the second phase of construction, from Linden Church Road to I-70, scheduled to begin in 2019, along with $1 million for a planning study for Route 32 between I-70 and Route 26.
Additionally, Hogan said the state has committed to $2 billion in shovel-ready infrastructure projects that will fix every structurally deficient bridge in the state.
“This year, we will allocate an additional $231 million in highway user revenues to local governments, an increase of $18.9%,” he said.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) filed legislation in January aimed at reorganizing the county’s Departments of Citizen Services (DCS) and Housing and Community Development (HCD), and relocating the Office of Transportation. A public hearing on these changes is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building.
Kittleman’s transition team recommended the reorganization, as did a work group studying the same issue.
“With this new structure, the Housing Department and Housing Commission, which have distinct missions, can function independently,” he said. “We believe collaboration among offices within the Department of Citizen Services will be greatly improved.”
Accordingly, DCS would receive a new identity as the Department of Community Resources and Services. The Office on Aging would become the Office on Aging and Independence, with the Commission on Aging renamed the Commission on Aging and Independence; the Office of Consumer Affairs would be renamed the Office of Consumer Protection; and the Office of Children’s Services becomes the Office of Children and Families.
The new Department of Community Resources and Services also would provide support services to county veterans and their families.
“We are confident these changes will result in the offices having greater capacity to serve individuals, while also addressing broader community needs,” said Phyllis Madachy, director of the Department of Citizens Services.
Kittleman said the Office of Transportation changes address his desire to align and integrate transportation planning more closely with the planning review process.
“With each new development, additional housing, new or expanded businesses, new schools and more, there is a transportation component that must be considered,” he said.
The proposed changes require legislative approval. The Howard County Council is currently considering the proposal and will vote on the changes on March 7.
Legislation currently before the council includes a bill that would limit the operating hours of solicitors and peddlers in the county to hours of daylight.
Susan Garber, chair of the Savage Community Association, supported the legislation and suggested an amendment to include panhandlers.
“We have no definition of panhandling,” Garber said. “This is quite a concern in my part of the county, and the police tell me it’s also a big issue around Dobbin Center and the Long Reach Area.”
The council is also weighing a request from ATAPCO Howard Square I Business Trust to reduce commercial space requirements in two CAC Zoning District residential developments, Howard Square and Blue Stream, owned by another developer.
“Because of the number of residential units, the required amount of commercial … represents a very large amount, particularly between Route 175 and Route 100,” said Sang Oh, the land use attorney representing ATAPCO. “We felt that the amount created a supply that greatly exceeded demand.”
Stu Kohn, president of the Howard County Citizens Association (HCCA), opposed the change and recommended a working group to review and analyze the feasibility, merits and contents of CAC, BRX and other zoning types.
Garber also opposed the change. “Approving this … would be one more incidence of accepting piecemeal changes rather than establishing and adhering to a plan, leaving decisions up to the Department of Planning and Zoning director once again,” she said.
Watershed Protection Fee
A Kittleman administration proposal to eliminate the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fee and fund the county’s obligation through a variety of sources, including monies from the general fund, the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund, and Government Obligation Bonds, met with stern opposition from environmental groups and citizens concerned about moving away from a dedicated source of funding.
John McCoy of Clarksville, who serves as watershed manager for the Columbia Association, testified that the fee for his property was reduced from $210 to $90 with the help of a soil conservation and water quality plan. “I do not find this to be a burden,” he said.
Tom Kasuba of Ellicott City, however, said he was discouraged to learn he would require nine rain barrels on a house with six downspouts to qualify for relief credit.
“It wasn’t until I tried to get reimbursement that I realized this whole thing wasn’t about being green [environmentally], but it was about being green [financially],” he said. “I don’t think people realize the bureaucracy that was created here, and the unfairness.”
One of the night’s biggest surprises came from the HCCA, which supports eliminating the fee. “From what we see, this bill in no way decreases the focus of attempting to protect the Chesapeake Bay,” Kohn said.
Jeff Agnor, chair-elect of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, advised the council that exorbitant fees and high taxes are a factor for economic development, determining whether a business stays, expands or relocates to one of the neighboring jurisdictions that has also eliminated the fee.
The council is considering an additional environmental bill that would establish a new Clean Energy Loan Program for commercial property owners.
“We not only see this as a way to accelerate the adoption of clean energy systems and efficient technologies, [but] as building owners adopt these projects this will create jobs,” said Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO Larry Twele. “It’s good for the environment and a job creation mechanism, and also gives us another tool in our arsenal as a friendly business incentive.”