With the county budget process complete, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann is turning her attention to a legislative package aimed at significantly changing development patterns and its effect on county government's ability to provide services.
The legislative initiatives -- called adequate public facilities laws -- are already in place to varying degrees in at least 10 other Maryland counties. The aim ofadequate public facilities initiatives is to hold back approval of some development until the county government is certain it can provideadequate services -- school space, water service, new roads and landfill space -- to meet the demands the new growth would create.
One issue the county must decide before it proceeds in developingthe legislation is whether it would affect residential, commercial and industrial development or some combination of those types of growth.
Rehrmann says the main elements of her initiatives will be to control the effect of development on school capacity, road and trafficconditions, water and sewer services, fire and ambulance services, park land and solid waste disposal.
William G. Carroll, director ofthe county Department of Planning and Zoning, said the adequate public facilities bills Rehrmann plans to propose will have the opposite effect of so-called impact fees, used in some areas of the country tomake developers pay for expanding services so new growth demands canbe met.
"With an impact fee, you say, 'You go ahead and build at your own pace; pay the fee and we'll catch up to you,' " said Carroll.
"With adequate public facilities, you say, 'We'll control the pace of growth. If the service doesn't meet our standards, that's it.' But it leaves an option to the developer to put in the light, or a section of sewer, or to wait until we get something built. It's definitely not anti-growth."
Last week, Carroll outlined Rehrmann's broadconcept for adequate public facilities laws to the County Council. He said the executive wants to have the first law in place by this fall, provided the council approves a framework for legislation to follow. That first law would be aimed at controlling public school overcrowding.
After hearing the proposal, council members urged a cautious approach. They think it could take six months to develop the legislation.
School overcrowding is considered by many of Harford's elected officials to be one of the county's most pressing problems resulting from the population boom of the 1980s.
Population and student attendance projections by the county Board of Education anticipate continued overcrowding over the next five years. Between 1991 and 1996,Board of Education staff estimate, planned developments in the Southampton Middle School attendance area, which draws students from around Bel Air, will result in construction of 9,408 new housing units.
Based on a percentage formula, county school administrators calculate that development will result in plenty of new students: 3,199 elementary school children, 1,317 middle school students and 1,223 high school students.
To keep up with the anticipated growth in student population countywide, Harford will need to build 13 elementary schools alone -- about two a year, said Albert Seymour, a spokesman for theBoard of Education.
At an estimated cost of about $6 million for each elementary school, the costs to state and county government -- which split building school costs -- could be enormous. That figure doesn't even take into account teachers and administrators needed to behired to staff those schools.
With an adequate public facilities law, county planning and zoning officials could issue temporary building moratoriums because schools are overcrowded or other services arestrained.
Under Rehrmann's concept for adequate public facilities, a developer would have the option of waiting out the moratorium or paying for the improvements, such as covering some or all of the costof a new school.
County Council members praise the initial work done by Carroll's staff on the proposal but want to see hard numbers setting minimum and optimum standards for service.
"Frankly, the more I read this, the more it seems like an enhanced conceptual statement," said Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, at the work session Thursday.
For example, the council wants to know how Rehrmann and her planners would determine when a traffic intersection is unable to move cars in an acceptable time period and what that time period would be.
Council members also wonder whether it wouldn't be better to have all the laws written together, before considering them for passage.
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable doing it piece by piece," said Councilman Barry T. Glassman, R-District D.
"This is a good piece of work, and it's light years ahead of where we were a year ago," said Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson at the conclusion of the meeting with the planning and zoning staff.