County Considers Upscale Housing To Fortify Tax Base Elegance Is Easy Way To Generate Revenue

October 07, 1990|By DARREN M. ALLEN | DARREN M. ALLEN,Staff writer

It's a far cry from the million-dollar mansions in Guilford or the expansive waterfront estates in Annapolis, but the gently rolling hills in towns throughout Carroll County make for some attractive lots on which to build large, expensive homes.

At least that's what some local Carroll officials are banking on.

"I guess we've always had an unofficial housing policy that calls for bigger homes and bigger lots," said Neal W. Powell, city manager in Taneytown. "We think it makes for more gracious living."

It also makes for more hefty property tax bills -- the kind of property tax bills that budget experts say often can more than make up for the cost of government services provided to residents of those more expensive homes.

In the wake of a possible slowdown in Carroll's explosive growth, some of the county's eight municipalities are trying to attract the type of low-density, large-lot, high-priced homes that often end up paying for themselves.

To do that, some of them have resorted to special large-lot zoning districts.

In Taneytown -- where the average lot size already is 5.54 acres and the average four-bedroom home sells for $206,000 -- the Planning and Zoning Commission several months ago endorsed a plan to create a district of one-acre or larger lots.

The already-large average lot size, Powell and others say, results from several 100-acre farms within the city.

Most residents, however, live on considerably smaller tracts.

Taneytown is not alone in its attempt to attract the more expensive homes.

In Hampstead, a development of $300,000- to-$500,000 homes surrounding an 18-hole golf course has been in the planning stages for several years.

In Sykesville, town planners have been trying to attract a mix of home types, including the more pricey models.

And in communities throughout Carroll, more expensive homes are becoming more common.

Of course, what is expensive is relative.

According to data released by the Relocating Counseling Center, a real estate consulting firm based in Anne Arundel County, the average county home now costs about $129,300, with a typical four-bedroom, single-family dwelling in Carroll going for about $208,302.

While those prices already are out of reach for many potential homebuyers, they compare favorably to some other locales in the Baltimore area.

For instance, that same four-bedroom home on about half the land will set you back nearly $409,000 in the Guilford section of Baltimore, some $555,000 in Clarksville, Howard County, and more than $793,000 in some of the ritziest of Baltimore County neighborhoods.

Nonetheless, Carroll's municipal leaders are looking to attract a market of $200,000 to $500,000 homes in an effort to diversify the property tax base.

"Yes, we have made some zoning decisions to encourage that kind of building," said Lloyd R. Helt Jr., Sykesville's mayor. "We want some sort of mix of development, and not just so you can get the extra revenue.

"It adds some character to the community."

But the extra revenue certainly comes in handy, especially when the portion of a municipal budget in Carroll County coming from property taxes ranges from 28 percent to more than 40 percent.

In all, the county's eight municipalities expect to collect $2.9 million in property tax revenue this fiscal year, which will end on June 30.

The county expects to collect just shy of $50 million by the same date.

For a house to "pay" for itself, economic experts say, it has to sell for more than $220,000.

In Taneytown, for instance, a house that sells for that much would generate $701 in city taxes and $2,113 in county taxes.

By comparison, the average home in Taneytown has a city tax bill of $414 and a county bill of $1,249.

"You really do need to encourage a mix of house types," said James C.

Threatte, the county's economic director. "You need higher-priced homes to subsidize the lower-priced ones."

To be sure, the construction of high-priced housing is no cure-all for a drop in tax revenues.

And some towns don't even go out of their way to attract the more expensive living spaces.

"Obviously, with a larger lot comes a larger home. But we don't zone for that purpose," said Miriam DePalmer, Manchester's zoning administrator.

"We do want to make Manchester accessible to people in all price brackets."

The average four-bedroom home in Manchester, according to the Relocation numbers, costs about $205,000.

In Hampstead, where town officials and a group of developers have been working on putting the Oakmont Greens golf course-luxury home development on the map for more than two years, no official policy guides the encouragement of expensive, upscale housing.

"We don't have a zoning district that specifically encourages the high-priced homes," said John A. Riley, the town's manager. "The Oakmont project wasn't done purposely.

"While we don't actually encourage that kind of development, we do welcome it."

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