Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chevy Chase election may reflect town opinion on building regulations

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Two of three council members, including a 12-term councilman, lost re-election bids in the Town of Chevy Chase last week, possibly reflecting a change in sentiments toward town regulations and administration in recent years.

The challengers who defeated councilmen Lance Hoffman and Mier Wolf were David Lublin, a political science professor who maintains a politics Web log, and Al Lang, a businessman who opposed the council’s approach to new building regulations.

The only female among six candidates, sitting Councilwoman Kathy Strom, retained her seat on the council. She won handily as the top vote-getter in the election.

Lublin praised Wolf as a mentor, saying the council ‘‘will really feel the loss” without the 12-term councilman.

Wolf served 24 years on the council. He will continue working on civic groups, such as the county’s Purple Line advisory committee and the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition that advocates for Capital Crescent Trail preservation.

‘‘I feel fortunate to have served the town for as many years as I was elected to do,” Wolf said. ‘‘Many residents voted for me 12 times, so I don’t think you can ask for more than that.”

Strom noted the nearly 10-point gap between the top two and bottom four vote-getters. The divide aligned somewhat with candidates’ stands on building regulations. The top two candidates, Strom and Lublin, supported the ordinance. Two of the bottom four opposed the ordinance.

‘‘The election itself came at a time when a significant part of the dialogue [for the past four months] had been consideration of the building ordinance,” Strom said.

About half of town residents cast ballots — a large turnout probably helped by a 12-hour voting window implemented for the first time this year to allow ballots to be cast during morning and afternoon hours.

New council members will be sworn in tonight at the council’s monthly meeting.

‘‘I believe the new council was elected because of the building ordinance and other town regulations,” Wolf said after the election. ‘‘Some people thought that there still was not enough regulation, especially of oversized houses, and there was another group that felt that the town was too involved in regulation.”

Wolf said he considered his regulatory stances to have been moderate.

‘‘I think the town was looking for representatives who had a strong point of view either way,” he said.

The candidates who challenged Wolf, Hoffman and Strom were split on the regulations issue. Lang and Steve Keeble echoed each other’s disappointment with the town’s new building ordinance that limits house size.

Lang did not return phone calls from The Gazette by press time.

Hoffman, who served the town for two years before losing his reelection bid, said he thought the election was ‘‘not only about land use.”

Hoffman said he worked to initiate more Web-based communication between town government and residents. But council actions still sometimes came as a surprise to residents, he said.

‘‘There is too much dissatisfaction with how the town communicates,” Hoffman said. ‘‘It may be that the town at this time needs to use a more professional communication strategy.”

Lublin straddled the controversial divide by saying he wanted to get past the building laws issue. Although he said he wants to slash time and hassle in the town’s variance process by eliminating the variance request requirement for projects that are ‘‘obviously going to be approved.” Retaining walls that are falling apart cannot be replaced until the town council approves the variance, Lublin said as an example.

‘‘Kathy Strom and myself both ran on a platform of many things, including maintaining the current ordinance, but also that we need to move on and the town should deal with other issues and not continue to rehash this one,” Lublin said in a post-election interview.

Town of Chevy Chase results

A total of 970 voters selected up to three candidates per ballot; the top three won council seats or re-election. Percentages are based on how many residents chose each candidate:

Kathy Strom (incumbent): 49.4 percent

David Lublin (challenger): 48.4 percent

Al Lang (challenger): 40.2 percent

Steve Keeble (challenger): 39.8 percent

Mier Wolf (incumbent): 38.1 percent

Lance Hoffman (incumbent): 37.8 percent