AH:'Adequate facilities': For what, where?
From: John W. Taylor
The Howard County Growth Cap is now history. As of Jan. 22, the County Council has eliminated the cap on building permits, and we are now relying solely on a slow economy to keep growth to manageable levels.
Between now, and whenever the economy turns around, Howard County must still address the problem of growth and how to fairly handle it. And we better succeed, or good economic times will bring back uncontrolled growth.
High on everyone's list, developers and slow growth advocates alike, is AdequatePublic Facilities legislation.
It is widely thought that a good APF law will be a better growth management tool than the cap was, and that APF will provide the stability and predictability that developers want, along with the managed growth that many citizens want.
That is probably true, but a critical question must be answered before adequate public facilities can be defined, let alone required: Adequate facilities for what, where? This question takes us back to land use.
Public facilities (schools, roads, police, libraries, parks, etc.) that are "adequate" for one level of development intensity are totally inadequate for another.
For example, more schools and roads are needed for neighborhoods of high density than for low density (more residences, more kids, more traffic, and so on).
So the mix of residential densities in Howard County will determine the level of facilities required, which will in turn determine the need for the county (taxpayers) to provide adequate facilities.
What's more, any increase in density will automatically result in an increase in the taxpayers' obligation to provide more facilities.
Which brings us to the 1990 General Plan. This plan greatly increases intensity of development throughout Howard County over the levels called for in the 1982General Plan.
North, South, East and West, more growth is called for, much more. Which means that much more will be required in terms of schools, roads and so forth. Which means taxpayers are going to have to subsidize the higher levels of growth called for in the 1990 General Plan.
They are going to be required to because an APF law essentially creates a responsibility for the government to provide facilities adequate for the land uses that government has approved in theGeneral Plan.
Odd as it may seem, the combination of APF and the 1990 General Plan could obligate the taxpayers of Howard County to provide facilities they do not want for extra growth they do not want!
This is not to say that APF is not an answer to Howard County's growth problems, just that it is not the only answer. For APF to work properly, several other growth management tools must also be put in place.
First and foremost, land use must be consistent with citizen desires for their county. Land use must reflect a balance between development, stable areas,conservation areas, and planned growth must take into account existing infrastructure and realistic limitations on future infrastructure (environmental, fiscal and other constraints.)
It makes little sense to plan for growth that cannot be accommodated, and then have to come back later and down-zone, at great upheavalto all involved. Fairfax comes to mind. Yet the 1990 General Plan does exactly that -- it plans for an unrealistic increase in growth in Howard County.
The General Plan needs to be adjusted before APF can work properly.
Assuming a more reasonable Plan, the next requirement is a tax cap -- not just a lid on assessments, but a true cap onthe taxes people can be required to pay.
This cap would limit theflow of revenues that could be applied to new facilities, in effect forcing a staging of new growth. Adequate facilities would be supplied, but only at a pace the taxpayers could live with, and only up to the limits set by a responsible General Plan.
Developer impact feesshould also be enacted. These fees would be a sharing by developers of the costs their new developments create.
Used in many locales, developer impact fees are recognized and accepted as a good growth management tool. We should be using them in Howard County, too. The alternative is for the taxpayers to continue to foot the entire bill.
To date, Howard County is working on APF, but has a very growth-oriented General Plan, no tax cap, and no authorization from the state toenact developer impact fees.
During the slow economy, we need to be revising our General Plan to reflect more responsible levels of new growth, enact a tax cap, and pressure our reluctant state delegation to vote for "enabling legislation" to allow Howard County to enact a full range of developer impact fees.