Many are aware of legislation over the past few months regarding Downtown Columbia development and the TIF proposed for Howard Hughes. Extra hearings were added, which was commendable, but I take issue with the fact that late amendments passed without public input as is required by law.
The Howard County Charter requires bills that have “substantive” amendments be re-introduced and have a new set of public hearings.
There were over 45 amendments to the downtown legislation, recently introduced after conclusion of public hearings. Council Member Terrasa attempted to get a finding of “substantive” but was outvoted 4-1. Amendments changed affordable housing issues, height limits, and the developer agreement*. How are those not substantive?
I was told that Council Member Sigaty didn’t feel the substantive finding was necessary, because people testified on the subjects of the amendments already. Sorry, but the fact that some people who testified mentioned these subjects, does not relieve the Council of following the Charter. The rest of the public did not get notice of these amendments, nor the ability to testify on them.
It is time for the word “substantive” to have a more objective definition in Howard County law. Last March, I suggested an amendment to a bill that required the DPZ to publicize their staff reports at least 2 weeks prior to Planning Board hearings. I suggested they include requiring the Planning Board also to publicize their decisions at least 2 weeks prior to the next hearing. I received an email from a Council Member, in response to that request, which stated my amendment would be substantive, and thus not allowed. It was stated my amendment dealt with another area of the code. The Downtown amendments apply to several code areas, and are far more “substantive” than my little request. The Council deems things substantive that are tiny, and not substantive which are huge. That is inappropriate.
Regardless of your stand on downtown legislative issues, or the TIF, or the amendment subjects, the process should be done properly. It is high time we put some details on the definition of “substantive”, as for now, it seems to be applied way too subjectively.
*There is a developer agreement in the legislation that outlines some issues between the developer and the County, such as, the County cannot change these agreements or any zoning issues therein, for 40 years.
To see legislation passed with amendments, go here
click on Bill number on the left, then click on amendment tab.