We haven’t done this before, and we wouldn’t if we didn’t think it was a big deal. Like almost-a-half-billion-dollars big deal. But, here goes:
Please call your current council reps—or you can email all of them at once at firstname.lastname@example.org—and ask them to hold off on approving Council Bill 54, for now. If approved as is, the legislation would authorize the County Executive to enter into a thirty-year agreement for the design, construction, partial financing, operation, and maintenance of a new Circuit Courthouse on Bendix Road. Ask them to please give this bill more time for the careful analysis it deserves, including better informing the public about what’s at stake and why. A mere four business days will separate the only public hearing on this bill from the Council’s vote on its approval, now scheduled to take place Friday (tomorrow, 7/27) morning.
You can see what’s been filed in association with CB-54 here: https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/LegislationDetail.aspx…. And you can read what the County has posted about the proposed “P3” arrangement at issue here: https://www.howardcountymd.gov/HowardCourthouse. Good luck downloading the thousand-page-long agreement at either link.
The thing is, as currently proposed CB-54 affords the County Executive the unilateral discretion to make any changes he deems necessary to the proposed deal, even after it’s been “authorized” by the Council. I asked at the public hearing, this past Monday night, what exactly did that mean the Council was being asked to approve, and what could change without their further review and approval.
I also asked: where is the other half of the plan. The one that spells out what happens when all the regular, busy courthouse activity—and all the people it brings here—leaves old Ellicott City for good.
And finally, here’s the follow-up concern I have: where is the side-by-side cost-benefit comparison of keeping this singular, strong civic anchor in the Ellicott City Historic District versus backing a brand-new courthouse into a residential neighborhood on what sounds like a pretty good place to instead put a middle school. I worry that this is yet another instance of the County siting undoubtedly necessary functions based on a favored property location, not fundamental land-use or planning concepts.
There’s no quarrel here that we may need a bigger, or safer, or otherwise improved courthouse building. The issue is whether encumbering public funds of this magnitude, over this many decades, in the midst of the dire capital needs we face elsewhere, is the right decision to be making at this time, on this accelerated a schedule, and why.