After taking a political pounding for four years, Howard County's business and development community flexed its muscles early yesterday by persuading the County Council to scrap the controversial 18-month cap on new home-building permits.
A parade of business leaders railed against the cap and its system of allocating permits, saying it made banks skeptical about lending money, led developers to hoard permits and shortchanged small builders.
The cap limited the county to 3,000 home-building permits over the 18 months that began in September 1989. It was scheduled to expire March 15, although some favored extending the cap by six months.
Developers and business leaders had been on the defensive during the administration of former Executive Elizabeth Bobo, who passed significant environmental and growth controls over their strong objections. But since her defeat in November, they have regained influence.
Executive Charles I. Ecker is taking a more conciliatory tone and promising to give greater consideration to business concerns.
A vigorous debate over the cap shaped up between civic activists and the business-development community over separate bills introduced by Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st.
Ms. Pendergrass' bill would have extended the cap for six months and authorized 1,251 permits during that period on a first-come, first-served basis, as opposed to the complex allocation system now in place. It was defeated 4-1.
By the same margin, the council adopted Mr. Gray's bill to lift the cap and scrap the allocation system but keep restrictions on rezoning and new new subdivisions in the western part of the county until Oct. 31.
As an emergency legislation, Mr. Gray's bill took effect immediately after it was passed just after midnight.
During the debate, a banker representing a coalition of lending institutions urged the council "to return to the free market system" by passing Mr. Gray's bill.
"We urge you to end the chaos and artificial governmental regulation," said H. Allen Becker, president of Chesapeake Federal Savings and Loan Association
But civic activists noted that four council members and Mr. Ecker had promised to extend the cap until an adequate-facilities law was passed to restrict development in areas where roads and schools are overburdened.
"It is an issue of trust," said Scot Hoeksema of Elkridge, adding that Mr. Gray's bill "does not instill confidence and trust among the citizenry."
The Bobo administration had said the 18-month cap was needed to slow growth until the county approved a General Plan for growth, an adequate-facilities law and comprehensive rezoning for the rural west. Only the General Plan has been passed.
Planning Director Joseph Rutter said there were 1,321 home-building permits issued last year, a considerable drop-off from the 4,000 issued yearly in the mid- to late 1980s.