School crowding is due scrutiny Hayden to discuss school crowding, home building.

March 18, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden this week will take his first detailed look at the problem of new home construction in areas with crowded schools.

A law that temporarily bans building in such areas expires next Jan. 1.

Hayden has scheduled a meeting with planners this week to discuss the situation as school officials predict that crowding will worsen in the next four or five years.

Meanwhile, the number of proposed houses delayed by the law that was enacted under then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen slowly mounts. Planners now count nine projects, totaling 175 new homes, that have received preliminary subdivision approval but are in the eight elementary school districts affected by the statute.

Seven of these projects aren't yet ready for construction, however, so just two projects, totaling 54 proposed homes near Hillcrest Elementary in Catonsville, have suffered actual delays.

School officials now expect four to seven more elementary schools to become eligible for protection under the law by September.

The interim law prohibits new homes from being built near elementary schools that are more than 20 percent over capacity. The law is due to expire Jan. 1, 1992, although it may be extended for six months.

Even now, however, 43 county elementary schools out of 92 are either at capacity or slightly over, and predictions are for steadily increasing school populations in the next few years.

"The numbers on middle and high schools are frightening," said county Planning Director P. David Fields, referring to school-system projections of crowding by the 1995-96 school year.

Fields said projections are for 17 of 25 county middle schools to be overcrowded by that year, and 13 of 21 high schools.

Secondary schools are not covered by the interim law, however, and none are expected to be more than 20 percent past capacity through next year anyway, school planners said.

The school system also has the option to change school district boundaries to move students from a crowded school to a nearby facility, but as the planning director pointed out, such shifting is always controversial with parents.

A new Seven Oaks Elementary School in Perry Hall that would have helped ease severe crowding at Gunpowder and Carney elementaries next September will now not open until September 1992. The 12-month delay is due to unstable soil conditions at the site at Joppa and Seven Courts roads, school officials said.

The two older schools are among the eight elementaries that are more than 20 percent over capacity. The others are Hillcrest, Prettyboy, Sparks, Hampton, Arbutus and Pot Spring.

A new 53-home development called Cameron Mills, near Pretty Boy Elementary in the northern county, was approved late last week by the County Review Group. It becomes the latest on the list of developments potentially affected by the building restrictions.

Despite protests from residents who live near the 275-acre development at Eagle Mill and Cameron Mill roads, the project won conceptual approval from the County Review Group, a bureaucratic panel that reviews projects to ensure that they conform to county technical standards.

These homes cannot now be built because Prettyboy Elementary is one the list of overcrowded schools. Opponents of the project worry, however, that the Hayden administration may allow the interim law to expire without replacing it.

Developers of Cameron Mills said they plan to leave 100 acres as open space, and avoid building in forested areas, wetlands and on steep slopes.

Attorney Newton Williams, speaking for developer James McKee, said the open space would add to the state Gunpowder Falls hiking-biking trail, which bisects the tract.

Opponents from the Maryland Line Area Association and other neighbors complained that the new homes would hurt their fragile wells, cause additional storm water runoff, clog traffic and imperil nearby historic ruins of an old mill building and stone house named Cameron Mill, which date from the 18th and 19th centuries.

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