The Howard County Council voted 4-1 early today to lift immediately a controversial cap on new home building permits and to wipe out a permit allocation system that builders had charged resulted in the hoarding of permits.
In a separate 4-1 vote, the council defeated a bill that would have extended the cap on new housing permits through Sept. 15.
The 18-month cap was to have expired March 15.
Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray's bill lifting the cap extends until Oct. 31 bans on subdivision rezoning and on new subdivisions in western Howard County.
Councilman Charles Feaga, R-5th, who cast the only "no" vote on the bill, said he did so because an amendment by Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, amounted to another cap on new housing permits.
The amendment requires the Department of Planning and Zoning to monitor the number of new house building permits and housing units completed each quarter so the council can act if the number of housing units built in a year exceeds 2,500, the level set by the county's general plan.
Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, who sponsored the bill that would have extended the cap until Sept. 15 and was its only supporter, said she wanted to extend the cap because the previous council and County Executive Charles I. Ecker had indicated they would extend the cap until a new adequate public facilities law was in place.
Such a law, being developed by a citizens committee appointed by Mr. Ecker, would prohibit development in areas where schools, roads and other public facilities were crowded.
The council voted after listening to testimony from 29 witnesses in a public hearing that continued past midnight.
Most speakers who supported the bill of Council Chairman Gray, D-3rd, were house builders and representatives of lending institutions. They argued that the cap, which limited new building permits to a total of 3,000, made it difficult to predict whether developers could get building permits. The unpredictability of building permits, in turn, made loans for new projects almost impossible to obtain, they argued.
The Ecker administration supported the bill, saying it would spur housing development at a time when the economy is slumping.
About half the speakers represented citizens associations that backed Ms. Pendergrass' bill.