Although the cap on residential building permits has been lifted, neither builders nor government officials expect a run on permits.
Between the economy and the war, buyers are scarce -- except for some custom home purchasers. Even if the economy turns around in the next few months, developers don't expect dramatic changes before the year's end.
Developer John Troutman won't even apply for permits: "I don't have the sales to back them up."
Troutman and others agree that ending the cap will mean most to small builders who have buyers lined up.Still, Troutman says "there is less pressure" now because "I don't need to do things to prevent my ground from becoming useless."
James Schulte, whose Security Development firm sells improved lots to large builders, said he doesn't don't know of any customers who are asking for permits.
Because of the cap, which went into effect in September 1989, there were virtually no new residential building projects in the last 18 months, Schulte said. Had the cap been extended six more months, it would have been devastating to the county and led to lawsuits, he said.
Developer John Liparini, shut out by the freeze, is one of those who will apply now. Liparini owns 33 lots near Ilchester that he intends to develop for N. V. Ryan homes. If there are no snags, Liparini expects to get financing in two months, see construction begin this fall and have the first families moving in late thisyear or early next.
The cap's demise may enhance perceptions of the construction climate in the county, which business leaders say mayboost business. Lifting the freeze underscores the "perception thatHoward County is really desirous of doing business with the businesscommunity," says Chamber of Commerce President Dick Pettingill.
Vivian Feen, president of the Howard County Board of Realtors, also sees the lifted ban as a morale booster. Ending the growth cap would "stimulate business, make it more predictable, enhance job opportunities and add to the public confidence," said Feen.
T. James Truby, president of a coalition of business and civic groups called the Economic Forum, agreed, saying the end of the growth cap is going to "send a very positive signal to the business community generally," and signifies that "the county is committed to go beyond stop-gap measures."
Until the county has an adequate facilities law -- something Trubysays both developers and slow-growth activists want to have in placesoon -- some uncertainty and conservatism among lenders will remain,Truby said. He thinks any commercial or residential developer who has signed a contract with a credit-worthy buyer and who has a permit to build should have no trouble getting financing.
As for the adequate facilities law, Truby says there is "every indication" that Eckerwants one that will take business leaders into account.
By appointing a task force comprised of "all the diverse elements of the community," and charging them to come with a draft adequate facilities bill, Ecker is allowing both sides of the growth issue to educate themselves to the needs of each other, Truby said.
Truby, who serves on the task force, said that "hopefully, both (developers and slow-growth advocates) have been sufficiently educated to the needs of each other so that necessary compromises have a better chance of being made."The council has asked that it not receive the draft law until after it finishes with the budget in May.
Meanwhile, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's acting director of planning and zoning, said the allocation certificate system for residential building permits -- by which the growth cap was administered -- was a failure which will never be repeated.
While acknowledging that the practice hurt some small developers, Rutter made no apologies for the program. "There is nothing wrong with trying something and finding it did not work," Rutter said.
After County Executive Charles I. Ecker signed the bill Thursday morning that put an end to the building cap, the county returned to its earlier practice.
No longer will home builders have to receive allocation certificates prior to getting a building permit. Now, any builder whose site plans have final approval and who has a buyer under contract may apply for a building permit. Processing takes about two weeks.
By 2 p.m. Thursday, 11 builders had paid $25 fees andapplied for permits. A day earlier, none applied, although hundreds who held allocation certificates could have.
The paucity of potential customers due to the recession is what appeared to persuade council members Tuesday to vote 4-1 to quit the building ceiling and end the system of permit allocation certificates abhorred by small and large developers alike.