Weekly Letter: From Zoning to Salsa - A Day’s Work

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Today (Wednesday) began at 8:15 on Riva Road in the Planning and Zoning conference room. I was there until 11:30 to review rezoning recommendations from our Stakeholder Advisory Committees, the Planning Advisory Board, and OPZ staff for Regions two and four, and to check in with senior staff.

I had loaded in my iPad a spreadsheet and a PowerPoint that staff had prepared for each region, and was relieved to see the spreadsheets printed out on large paper and neatly placed at my seat. 

This day had been a long time coming. We started on the general development plan that guides this work with a lot of community engagement in early 2019. Not long after, we committed to a new process of nine region plans driven by stakeholder committees that would precede comprehensive rezoning. The idea was that both I and the County Council should be making zoning decisions only after intensive outreach and engagement from communities, and that communities should be empowered to hold us accountable. A look back at the history of applicants for lucrative upzonings contributing to the political campaigns of decision-makers demonstrates why this is important.

I was impressed with the work by the stakeholder committees, by staff, and by the PAB. All had made honest efforts to adhere to our “smarter, greener, more equitable” Plan2040 that was approved by the County Council in 2021, but there were cases for which consensus did not exist, both within and between those groups. We looked at those and had to make calls - not final calls, but calls about what would be proposed to the ultimate deciders, the County Council. 

I left the meeting feeling that the community engagement efforts over the last five years have been worth the effort. This county’s growth must and will be carefully managed.

I also left the meeting fifteen minutes late, which meant that I wouldn’t have time to get the COVID shot that I had planned on before my noon appointment back at the office. Next week, I promise.

At noon I sat down at my office with a church-based organization called ASEZ, which stands for Saving Earth from A to Z. They may have jumbled the order of their letters, but they didn’t jumble the details of the two extraordinary cleanups that they worked on with our Community Engagement Officer, Courtney Buiniskis. Their 120 volunteers picked up over two tons of trash, first at Wayson’s Corner and then by the Patuxent River near Piney Orchard. I thanked them for making our county a better place and encouraged them to keep up their work.

My 1pm appointment was at Arthur Murray Dance Studio. I have until Saturday night to perfect my salsa routine for the Movers and Shakers competition at Maryland Hall, a fundraiser for both Maryland Hall and The Benjamin Mario Shadrick Foundation. I’m finally getting close to keeping up with the music and remembering the order of the steps. You can buy tickets here if you want to watch me and an all-star lineup of rookies struggling on the stage.

At 2:30 Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell showed up for our monthly one-on-one. Most of the people come in with an agenda and a strategy to get what they’re after. Dr. Bedell comes in and just shares. He shares what he’s trying to get done and how he’s going about it, and I find myself wanting to help however I can. He’s an extraordinarily talented leader, so I enjoy studying his methods. 

I thanked him for his commitment to redistricting, to ending both school overcrowding and the expensive habit of failing to utilize existing space. I suggested he celebrate that night’s expected Board of Education vote on his redistricting plan with a good drink, and he may have sent me photographic evidence that he did just that. Congratulations to Dr. Bedell and the Board of Education! You did the hard thing, and the right thing.

Next was a staff meeting to plan for the January start of the 2024 Maryland General Assembly. It will soon be time to sit down with the members of our county delegation, hear their priorities and share ours. As we started to disappear down the rabbit holes of policy, my trusty assistant Janine Fratantuono did what she always does. She opens the conference room door and gives us the five fingers, five minutes before I have to leave. And yes, she returns five minutes later, opens the door and just stands there.

So, off to Maryland Hall for the unveiling of the Earl Gallery, named in honor of my favorite local philanthropists, James and Sylvia Earl. This couple and their offspring make our lives better, over and over again, by bringing the arts to all of us and protecting the natural areas that sustain us. The current showing is photographs of the civil rights movement, extraordinary photographs that remind us what it took to get where we are today. The Earls, their two sons, and a bunch of their grandkids were there to share the moment.

I was ready to go home after that, but I’d promised to attend a 6:30 ceremony at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Arnold. I piled some snacks from the reception on a paper plate and headed north.

And I’m glad I did.

It was a graduation ceremony for forty or so of the 100 adults who had made the decision to do what it took to pass the GED, with the help of the extraordinary faculty at the best community college in America, AACC.

It was the 25th of these annual ceremonies, and it was the first I’d attended. The auditorium was packed with supportive family and friends. The graduates were from every walk of life, every age, and each had a reason that they had not graduated from high school when their peers did. 

Two mothers spoke before receiving their diplomas. One credited her daughter with Downs Syndrome for teaching her to never give up. Another thanked the teenage son that she had lost to gun violence for encouraging her to get her GED. 

I got to shake the hand of every graduate when they came onto the stage, but I really wanted to hug them. And to thank them for their courage, and their belief that they can be more than what they’ve been. Because when they do that, we all do that. It’s infectious.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman

Anne Arundel County Executive