Leopold, a Republican, is likely to use his line-item veto power to turn back at least some of the changes to the county's comprehensive zoning plan. The county executive, who has called some of the changes "irresponsible, egregious spot zoning," has up to 10 days from passage of the legislation to exercise the rarely used power. Leopold spokeswoman Tracie Reynolds said late last week that Leopold was considering his options and "talking to people in South County."
Some of the southern county projects approved include a Fiat dealership in Edgewater, as well as commercial developments in the Lothian Circle area and south of Route 214, which county planners say flies in the face of agreed-upon principles for county development.
Nearly 200 residents crowded the council chambers in Annapolis. Supporters of the bill wore "Jobs Now" stickers, while opponents sported "Keep South County Rural" emblems. Leopold administration officials have also vigorously opposed many of the changes, citing planning documents intended to guide the rezoning process.
The battle over zoning in County Council District 7, known as South County, has gone on for months, with land-use activists, residents, developers and land owners weighing in on proposed changes. The process began this year as part of the county's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning, which tasks the council with considering applications for rezoning land across the county.
Each council member has broad latitude in determining which zoning changes will be approved in his district. Councilman Jerry Walker, a Republican from Gambrills who represents South County, introduced many of the controversial amendments.
At Monday night's meeting, he faced a backlash from dozens of angry constituents.
Speaker after speaker complained that Walker hadn't properly communicated with them, that because he's from Gambrills he doesn't understand the communities in the most rural areas. Some said he had lost their support.
"We can't communicate with him," said James Davis, an Edgewater resident. "We need a councilman that drives across the Route 2 bridge twice a day. If Mickey Mouse runs for South County representative for the next election, I'm voting for Mickey Mouse."
Walker has said he weighed each application on its merits, the effects to the surrounding area and the individual property rights of the land owners. He said he held a series of meetings with both individuals and community groups who were for and against many of the projects, giving all sides equal time to weigh in.
"I don't think anyone can say I didn't listen to them," said Walker. "They may not like the decisions I made after I listened to them, but they can't say I didn't listen to them. As with anything in politics, some people are happy with you and some people aren't."
Walker said he was unsure whether he could secure enough votes to override possible Leopold vetoes. The council needs five votes for an override.
Alice Yeager, vice president of the Withersea Property Owners Association, said she set up a meeting with Walker and he was "unresponsive." Yeager was there to try to persuade the council not to grant commercial zoning to a property now zoned for residential use. The land, which sits near Routes 214 and 2, has had a bar, restaurant and house there since 1949, and has operated the facilities using a special zoning allowance. But Yeager worries that the more intense commercial zoning will allow for an office building to be constructed there if the property owner decides to sell it.
"He literally was silent," she said.
Eric Chadwick, a Crofton resident who was seeking a zoning upgrade for an office building he owns, said residents were unfairly targeting Walker.
"A lot of people are just ripping him apart," said Chadwick. "He came to my house when he was campaigning and talked to me and my kids for 45 minutes. He's a good man. Give the guy a break."