The kind of development that has led to overcrowded schools and monster traffic jams was a huge issue in the primary race for Baltimore County Executive.
But with less than three weeks to go before the general election, neither candidate is making overdevelopment a major focus of his campaign.
State Senator Jim Brochin built his Democratic primary campaign around controlling development. In June, he lost to Johnny Olszewski by 17 votes. Now, Brochin is staying neutral in the general election, saying he is hearing little from either Olszewksi or Republican Al Redmer about how they would reel developers in.
Brochin said, “They are both I think hoping they will get developer money in order to win this race.”
Indeed, both candidates are getting money from developers. Both say, in essence, that they receive widespread support, not just from developers but from people around the county.
The centerpiece of Brochin’s campaign was ending what he called pay to play. Brochin proposed banning developers with projects on the table from giving money to county executive and council candidates. Neither Olszewski nor Redmer support that.
Redmer agrees there’s a problem.
“The political machine that’s been running the county for over a decade runs county government through cronyism, fear and intimidation and retribution and it’s consistent,” Redmer said.
But Redmer isn’t ready yet to offer any solutions. He said that will come after he’s elected.
“We need to look at the entire process to see how we can do it more efficiently,” Redmer said.
Olszewski criticizes Redmer for being vague.
Olszewski said, ”Unlike my opponent I have specific plans.”
Instead of banning developers from giving money, Olszewski wants to offer public campaign financing for candidates who want it.
“There’s no reliance on any special interests,” Olszewski said. “And so we are not singling out one special interest. We are creating an opportunity for candidates to come forward and run completely independent on the merits of issues.”
Redmer believes Olszewski’s proposal has merit and should be considered.
However, a candidate would not have to go the public financing route, and so would be free to raise money from developers. And county taxpayers would foot the bill, although Olszewski said it would not be that expensive.
“We’re talking about just to be clear a few million dollars every four years,” Olszewski said.
Brochin said he’s not optimistic that either Redmer or Olszewski, left to their own devices will do much to protect the county from overdevelopment. But Brochin is counting on communities threatened by it to hold the next county executive’s feet to the fire.
“I’m really hopeful these communities protect open space,” Brochin said. “We can’t pour concrete over this county.”
A huge portion of the county is actually protected from that concrete by the URDL. URDL stands for the Urban Rural Demarcation line. It was drawn more than 50 years ago and protects rural areas from development by limiting water and sewer service.
Both candidates attended a forum recently at Hereford Middle School in Monkton, an area of the county that is protected by the URDL.
Both Redmer and Olszewski support leaving the URDL as is. They also both back a moratorium on solar farms. There is concern they threaten valuable farm land.
Lynne Jones, the president of the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council, which sponsored the forum, said when it came to protecting rural development, she didn’t hear much difference between Redmer and Olszewski.
“They really don’t quite understand the issues like we know the issues but they are certainly willing to learn, it appears as if,” Jones said.
About two-thirds of the county is protected by the urban rural demarcation line.