Councilman Marks Looks Ahead in 2012
The 5th District councilman started the year by proposing a bill to limit how long new council members can hold onto the job.
The thing about doing what you love is knowing when to step away. County Councilman David Marks says he knows when that is for him: December 2022, at the latest.
The Perry Hall Republican began 2012 by introducing a bill to limit future council members to three four-year terms, starting in 2014. Marks is nearly certain the vote on his proposal will fail along party lines, 5-2, but the principle is important to the freshman councilman. Introducing a term-limits bill was a campaign promise and Marks plans to limit himself to only three terms.
Such a proposal is par for the course for the soft-spoken Marks, 38, who, in his 13 months on the council, has balanced the voices and votes of the vast 5th district, which stretches from Charles Street to the Harford County line in Kingsville. Patch sat down with him in his Towson office to talk about where the district is headed in 2012.
Balancing Towson and Perry Hall
Towson skews more Democratic while Perry Hall and Kingsville provide more reliable Republican votes. Marks said, after taking office, he spent more time in Towson than anywhere else, talking to major players and introducing himself to residents.
Marks, a self-described moderate, has appointed both Democrats and Republicans to various commissions, including former Democratic council candidates like Bill Paulshock and general election opponent Mike Ertel.
Towson provides the transportation consultant and former Maryland Department of Transportation officials an urban environment to work with. His long-term ideas include a circulator bus and an urban district for the downtown core.
"Towson is much different from Perry Hall. Towson is structured, it's very neighborhood-oriented. There's layers of groups you don't find in Perry Hall," he said. "I've gotten to apply some of my public policy experience, my background looking at ways we can regenerate the heart of Towson."
But rather than proposing bills, much of Marks' time has been spent encouraging development and speaking up on behalf of residents. In Towson, that has included asking developers to tear down vacant buildings, brokering a deal with Towson Green's developers to plant new trees in neighboring Burkleigh Square and working with Towson University officials on community issues.
Marks has found himself well-recieved in Towson, save for one major spat Marks considers a learning experience.
Last fall, Marks introduced a bill at the request of Caves Valley Partners, owners of Towson City Center, which allowed larger office buildings and buildings with a local government function to post larger signs with changeable copy or electronic displays. Community leaders blasted the plan, saying it contained loopholes allowing for a Times Square or Las Vegas-esque environment in Towson's core.
Marks worked with community leaders to introduce a revised bill. David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said the incident probably improved communication between both sides.
"There's a lot that he was learning as a new member of the County Council," Kosak said. Kosak said residents have valued Marks' visibility and dedication to community issues.
On the east side of the district, Marks has focused his energy on curbing development—his response to residents who have watched the community lose much of its farmland to housing developments and shopping centers over the past three decades.
In early December, Marks submitted plans for the downzoning of more than 280 acres of Perry Hall property, essentially preventing new housing developments from being built in more than a dozen neighborhoods, forests and farming areas. It was a popular move, but not drastic enough, according to some of his critics.
"People need to understand that, as a councilman, I can't halt all development," he said. "I have to respect property rights."
Marks first proposed downzoning portions of Perry Hall while serving as president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, where he helped to draft the Perry Hall Community Plan. He voted on the plan as a community leader just months after he became a councilman.
What's next in the 5th district
Beyond the term limits bill, Marks' priorities include allowing for a county charter review commission every 10 years. The most recent review was in 1990. A review could look at contentious issues, including the county's redistricting process.
In Towson, Marks wants to start conversations on his urban district proposal, look into a new dog park in Rodgers Forge and encourage the school system to keep the old Carver Center building as overflow space for elementary or middle school students.
In Perry Hall, Marks wants to see a new supermarket tenant in the Perry Hall Square shopping center and plans to help finalize a long-term lease with community leaders for the Perry Hall Mansion. One thing not on the table: A sorely-needed new high school serving the Perry Hall and White Marsh areas.
"We should have spent some of our $100 million surpluses in the last decade to buy some land for a new high school," Marks said. But county and state budgets are tight, so that means attention and money has to be focused where it's needed more urgently, in the York Road corridor.
For Parkville and Carney, Marks plans to introduce a bill limiting development of so-called "panhandle lots" there, which currently allow developers to build one unit directly behind another.
Limiting his terms, not his potential
Marks has nearly 11 more years, assuming voters allow him the privilege, to do all he's set out to do.
"Twelve years means you'll be around for at least two economic expansions, so you could have the money to do the projects you need to do," Marks said.
Term limits are already an accepted practice for county executives, who are restricted to two. "A good county executive can get done in eight years what they set out to do," he said.
Marks said he has no ambitions for higher office and doesn't ever expect to run as a state delegate or senator. He could, however, see himself returning to a post in state or federal government transportation policy.
Being in the Republican minority of the Maryland General Assembly would hamper his ability to "get things done," he said.
The County Council, however, is smaller and more issue oriented, he said. In a county of mostly Democrats, even a Perry Hall conservative can make a difference on the council.
"This is the political job I've always wanted," Marks said.