Developers Say Facilities Law Would 'Devastate' County

October 14, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Business leader John F. Liparini, a political adviser to County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, said Wednesday that Bobo's proposed adequate facilities legislation will be "devastating to the building economy" here in the next 6 to 12 months if enacted in its present form.

Liparini was joined in his bleak forecast by fellow developers Alton J.

Scavo, vice president of the Rouse Co., and John L. Troutman, president of the Troutman Co.

All three were panelists at a four-hour seminar on adequate facilities ordinances, sponsored by a Baltimore law firm in Columbia, Wednesday.

Ultimately, builders would survive and adapt to the new regulations, Liparini said, because Howard County is well-located.

Liparini, who is president of Brantly Development Corp. and the Howard County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said that if the administration's proposals are enacted in their present form, "virtually nothing will happen" here.

The proposals are "so far-reaching, that even existing buildings will be affected by this regulation," Liparini said. "Nobody can do anything in this county as proposed" in the legislation.

Liparini's objection to the bill is that it applies "new rules" to projects that have already been given preliminary approval by the county's planning department. He wants approved projects to be exempted or grand-fathered.

Apart from that, the bill is a "masterful planning tool" that should prevent the kind of "abuses and greed" that occurred two years ago when the county was "invaded" by outside developers and became "easy prey" because of "simple-minded" regulations, Liparini said following the seminar.

The administration bill, which will be given a public hearing tomorrow night, would make developers responsible for the building of roads and schools that service their developments.

Liparini said "home grown" builders who, like himself, got their start at the Rouse company, "have been providing adequate facilities here since 1972."

"Since Rouse to today, we've been in the business of public facilities," Liparini said. "Columbia fulfilled its promises and the facilities have been more than adequate: excellent roads, schools, parks and recreation facilities."

Scavo said that for years, development in Howard County was based on "mutual accountability" between the citizenry, the landowner and the local government.

"Now, we have gotten ourselves into a 'we and they' situation and everybody's got a special interest," Scavo said. "For 30 years it was 'us.' " Scavo said "they" see "we" (developers) as "easy targets -- that if you get the big guy, the little guy will follow.

"They perceive 'we' as having deep pockets, infinite resources and a divine ability to succeed -- that you can do anything to a large project and it will still succeed."

Scavo said Howard County was "the sticks" until it became a desirable business location "betwixt and between" Washington and Baltimore. "If we're not careful, we can go back to the sticks," Scavo said.

"We see 'them' changing the rules in mid-stream. We get no credit, no relief for past improvements," no appreciation or recognition for having worked collaboratively with government and the citizenry in the past, Scavo said.

Troutman, another Rouse alumnus, echoed Scavo's remarks. The "we-they" dichotomy is coming at "totally the wrong time," he said.

"We're on a downhill trend" that will force small to mid-size developers to join well-capitalized firms from outside the county, Troutman said.

"Some of us won't be here in a year or two. I'm not crying, but if you want to change the nature of doing business here, this ordinance will do it."

Robert L. Mitchell, a Montgomery County developer and member of the governor's housing policy commission, said the growth problem is not development but population. "I have caused more growth problems in Montgomery County as a father (of four children) than as a builder-developer," he said.

Most government policies, including adequate facilities ordinances, "negatively influence" affordable housing, Mitchell said, because developers will charge new home owners for the facilities they are required to build.

Adequate facilities ordinances "are an unqualified political success and a planning calamity," Mitchell said, reflecting "an unwillingness" on the part of elected officials "to finance needed infrastructure" -- schools, libraries, roads, police and fire protection, and water, sewer and trash service.

"The (political) leadership has looked to the new home buyer to assume the burden for the rest of us. They talk about road crowding, but don't want to deal with our love affair with the automobile -- families having three and four cars," Mitchell said.

Rather than an adequate facilities ordinance requiring builders to provide the infrastructure and pass the costs along to new home buyers, Mitchell would like to see needed facilities financed by the whole community.

To do that, he would have municipalities increase transfer taxes on property transactions, impose parking taxes, increase local income taxes, build local toll roads, impose local vehicle registration fees, and collect a local gasoline tax.

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