Miller, Assembly may block county's plans for ICC route
Nov. 24, 1999

by Josh Kurtz

Staff Writer

November 17, 1999

The fight over the Intercounty Connector could move to the State House.

Several state lawmakers -- including the powerful president of the Senate -- are discussing introducing legislation to block Montgomery County from reserving county property along the so-called master plan route for parkland.

"Nobody wants to do anything punitive, but I'm certain there will be a major effort in Annapolis to convince local officials that they are part of the rest of the state of Maryland, and zoning decisions impact the rest of the state," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Clinton said last week.

The Montgomery County Council recently voted to direct the county Planning Board to rezone 190 acres' worth of parcels the county purchased along the proposed highway route from Gaithersburg to Laurel. Under the council's directive, the property could be used only for parkland -- thwarting officials who would like to see a road built there eventually. The county executive has no veto power over the Master Plan changes, and only five council members are needed to approve the change.

But the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which serves both Montgomery and Prince George's counties, is controlled by both county governments and the state, so pro-ICC lawmakers believe they may be able to reverse the council's decision.

"There's legislation that could be enacted affecting the Park and Planning Commission as to what uses open space money can be spent for," Miller said.

Talk of a pro-ICC bill is the latest development in the saga of the road since Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced in September that he would not build it. Glendening said he would try to build two parkways at either end of the ICC route but leave the middle section undeveloped. The Montgomery Council, which opposes the ICC, followed suit by ordering a rezoning of its property along the master plan route.

But Glendening's announcement galvanized ICC proponents. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a staunch ICC defender, said state legislation might be one way to prevent the planning board from changing the zoning.

"The ICC is seen in Annapolis as clearly a state road with implications beyond Montgomery County," he said.

Duncan said his staff is investigating whether the council and the planning board have the right to rezone the parcels. In Rockville, where Duncan was mayor, city officials must offer property they have acquired for a specific purpose back to the sellers before attempting to rezone it, Duncan said.

"I've asked what the disposition of the property should be," he said. "We're looking to stop them however we can."

Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Senate delegation and a leading supporter of the ICC, said pro-ICC legislators are weighing the political, logistical and legal ramifications of legislation designed to overturn the council.

"I'm not sure we can do it legally," she said. "We'd have to get an attorney general's opinion. It would be something to consider."

Among the considerations, Ruben said, were:

* Whether the state government could legally supersede the council vote on park and planning matters.

* Whether a bill to do so would be introduced as a local bill, considered by the Montgomery County delegation before going to the full legislature; a bicounty bill, considered first by Montgomery and Prince George's lawmakers; or a statewide bill. The deadline for introducing local and bicounty bills in the upcoming legislative session has already passed, although "late-filed" bills are permissible under certain circumstances.

* Whether the House and Senate would have the votes to override a presumed veto by Glendening of any pro-ICC bill the legislature might approve.

Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for Glendening, said Monday the governor would "most likely" veto the type of bill Miller and Ruben are talking about, if it passes.

Some local elected officials said they would strenuously object to any attempt by the legislature to reverse the council vote.

"Something like that wouldn't be received very favorably because it would be a gross intrusion on local authority," said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, an ICC foe.

County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring, who opposes the ICC but voted against the council bill to rezone the master plan properties, said a vote by the legislature would be "unfortunate." She said a bill in the legislature would trigger a power struggle instead of a debate over how to solve traffic congestion.

"That would stir up the battle, not of the substance, but of the players," Praisner said.

Del. Henry B. Heller (D-Dist. 19) of Rockville, an ICC opponent, said he would expect Ruben and the chairman of the Montgomery County House delegation, Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg, to defend the county government's decision in Annapolis and insist that the delegations follow their normal procedures in considering any pro-ICC bills.

"If they try to jam it in some other way, it's up to Ida and Kumar to protect the county process," he said.

Ironically, Ruben and Barve are both strong supporters of the ICC.