After a grueling year of rezoning procedures, 6th district County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins is looking ahead to taking care of simpler things in 2013.
Her priorities over the next 12 months include things like air conditioning in schools and job growth and whatever else her constituents bring to her.
Someone taught me a very long time ago that when someone calls you or emails you or shows up in person, what they're talking about is the most important thing in their life at that moment," the Oliver Beach Democrat said in a recent interview in her Towson office. "So what's important to that person is what's important to this office."
Asked to point to her biggest successes in 2012, Bevins pointed to the simple things, like securing funds to pave streets in the Hawthorne neighborhood and sponsoring a bill to revive testing of county waters.
"For many years they said no, so I was happy when they finally said they would put it back in the budget," Bevins said. "It was $28,000, and I feel it was $28,000 well spent."
Several schools in her district were in County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's state budget request for air conditioning. Gov. Martin O'Malley announced a budget proposal in early January that includes $25 million for school air conditioning statewide. Bevins said that of the seven council members, the fewest schools in her district are currently air conditioned.
"Nobody else wants to be in that position," she said.
As for the school system itself, Bevins said the council has been meeting quarterly with new Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, a practice that didn't happen under his predecessor, Joe Hairston. The council talks about constituents' issues and asks Dance questions, Bevins said.
"The dialogue that we have with his office has just been tremendous," she said. "I think that parents for the most part are happy with the education their children have been getting in the county schools
But so much of Bevins' work, she said, is done away from the council chambers. Her database, she said, includes 900 constituents assisted with county concerns, and Bevins visits Annapolis on Wednesdays as part of the Maryland Association of Counties legislative committee, on which she's served for two years.
Two of Bevins' rezoning approvals in 2012—Middle River Depot and a stretch of Campbell Boulevard in White Marsh—were aimed at job growth, she said. Middle River Depot, a former Glenn L. Martin Co. factory, is the site of a future mixed-use facility including housing, retail and sports facilities.
On Campbell Boulevard, across the street from a shopping center that includes a Target and Best Buy, Bevins declined to say who may be moving in the currently vacant lots, but said, "There's going to be growth and job opportunities there ... Just a lot of folks talking to the developer who would like to come there. Some that have bever been in Baltimore County before."
Both those zoning approvals may be in legal limbo until the 2016 election depending on the outcome legal challenges to a petition against the rezoning process funded largely by developers. A bill Bevins introduced in December that would allow the Middle River project to proceed is also now the subject of a petition drive.
But not all of the rest of her zoning requests have made all happy. Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council, said that residents there are in particular dismayed about a zoning change Bevins approved for the Heritage Honda dealer in Parkville.
The change brings commercial zoning too close for comfort to residents, Baisden said, and brings "zoning that's not compatible with residents right onto people's doorsteps [and] that affects property values."
Baisden also said that Bevins has not always been as responsive to Parkville concerns as she would like. but generally she feels comfortable contacting her about concerns. In the next year, Baisden would like to see progress made on initiatives to improve the Harford Road business community and address environmental concerns like stream restoration and stormwater management.
"I'd like to see her more responsive to the communities," she said.
Coming in 2013
Bevins laments the petition drives against the 6th district rezoning and the December bill. Much of the manufacturing sector in eastern Baltimore County, from Middle River Depot to, more recently, the steel mill at Sparrows Point, has moved away or been long since shuttered. The granddaughter of a steelworker, Bevins said she wants to see the dilapidated properties have new life.
"They're a memory of what was that just doesn't exist anymore," she said. "All this manufacturing and it's all gone, and some of it is historical. What do you do with it? Someone's got to get creative and do something with this land."
And given the slow economic recovery, Bevins said residents should keep the county's strong financial position in perspective.
"We haven't raised property taxes or income taxes, so I think people as a whole need to focus on that. And I think in these tough financial times, we're getting things done," she said.
Other than that, Bevins said, most of her priorities come to her in the form of that concerned citizen who fill her inbox. Most importantly, she said, she doesn't want her district to get left behind.
"I want to make sure that I get my fair share. I want to make sure that the county executive hears me loud and clear," Bevins said. "I want to continue working with colleages on projects that affect all of Baltimore County, not just my district."