Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo's adequate facilities bill, a measure designed to limit growth in areas where schools and roads are overburdened, received a mixed reception at a public hearing last night.
All told, 33 persons representing developers and community associations signed up to speak on the controversial legislation. Unlike some previous land-use battles, only half of the council chamber seats in Ellicott City were filled.
The complicated legislative proposal drew strong support from Guy W. Hager, executive director of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, who agreed to be the consultant to the County Council on the legislation.
Mr. Hager said that the county's adequate facilities bill would be "a benchmark that other jurisdictions will shoot for" and recommended that the council move forward with the bill "as soon as possible."
According to Mr. Hager, the only element missing in what he termed "a toolbox for managing growth" was legislation requiring developer impact fees to help pay for some of the public improvements.
The plan also garnered the support of community activist Evelyn Belschner, president of the Patapsco Heights-Church Road Association in Ellicott City.
She urged the council to act expeditiously on the legislation and not to allow any exceptions or grandfather provisions as loopholes.
Ms. Belschner went on to say that "too rapid growth without adequate infrastructure can destroy us."
But the legislation came under strong attack from several major businesses in the suburban county. Philip Berman, a facilities manager with W. R. Grace and Co., a major chemical firm with a research center near Columbia, told the council that the legislation would discourage proposed expansion plans the firm has at its 147-acre campus.
Alton Scavo, a Rouse Co. vice president, warned that "if this legislation is not given careful consideration in all its aspects it could have a profound impact on the business environment and investor attitudes in the county which could affect the county's fiscal stability."
Mr. Scavo engaged in a brief debate with Councilwoman Angela Beltram, when he complained that key design manuals which implemented the legislation were not available for public review, prompting the councilwoman to disagree, saying that most of the material has been available since July.
Mr. Scavo responded that there had been significant problems with the road design manual which he said had to be rewritten.
The Republican candidate for county executive, Charles I. Ecker, told the council that he favored adequate public facilities legislation, but "what the administration is asking you and the citizens of this county to do is to buy an apple pie without the apples, or buy a car without a motor."
He maintained that the Bobo administration has not given the public adequate time to review the design manuals accompanying the legislation and has not tested the proposed ordinance to determine what effects it will have.
Even before the public hearing got under way, a citizens' organization and a predominantly business lobbying group joined forces to request the postponement of the hearing until Oct. 9.
The Coalition of Community Associations and the Howard County Economic Forum complained that manuals outlining what developers must do to make sure roads and schools can accommodate new growth have not been publicly available.
Spokesmen for the two organizations said the manuals were "the heart" of the measure and unless there was adequate public review of the criteria, the public hearing process would not be a fair one.
Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she that understood the groups' concerns, adding, "All this material should have been ready some months ago."
But she urged that the planned public hearing on the bill should go forward.
She said the council is considering tabling the bill Oct. 1 and has scheduled another legislative session Oct. 28 so public testimony could be heard on both the bill and the manuals, which are slated for introduction next month.
Under the measure, a new residential, commercial or industrial subdivision could not be built if it would cause nearby roads to become so congested they would drop below level "D" on the state's "A' through "F" scale for measuring traffic.
The only exception would cover industrial development on certain state roads, where the state government has yet to plan for major improvements to handle growth.
If developers failed to meet the road standard, they could submit plans for only a portion of their developments or come up with a plan for improving roads enough to handle the traffic generated by their projects.
Otherwise, construction of the proposed subdivision would have to wait until the county or state improved the roads.
Similarly, a subdivision could not be built if it would cause schools within a specified distance to go beyond the capacity the county has set for them.
If a group of schools served by the development would be more than 10 percent above capacity, a developer could build only if he donated land for a new school and submitted a plan to build the project in phases.