Bill Links Schools, Construction

Development Banned In Areas Over Capacity

December 01, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

New housing developments would be temporarily banned in areas where schools would be 20 percent over capacity within three years under a proposal by the county executive.

The proposal is the first piece of an adequate public facilities legislative package to manage growth. The legislative initiative by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann is aimed at curbing new development until adequate public services, such as roads, water and schools, are in place.

The first bill, which will be debated by the County Council at a hearing Dec. 17, establishes a ceiling on how much overcrowding will be tolerated in schools.

Under the bill, preliminary plans for a proposed housing development would not be approved if it was determined that within three years the population in a school serving the areawould be 20 percent or more above student capacity.

The ban wouldbe lifted when overcrowded conditions are relieved, either through construction of a new school or student population declines.

"This will save us millions of dollars because it will put us in a situation where we won't have to play catch-up," said Larry Klimovitz, director of administration.

"Growth will occur in areas where it can be handled, or managed until we can afford to provide the services."

George Shehan, president of the Maryland Homebuilders Association anda Harford County developer, said the proposal "is obviously not something we're happy about.

"However, for most developers, while it'snot something they welcome, it's a reasonable plan, as long as they stop a project prior to the point where a developer has a substantialinvestment and commitment," said Shehan.

None of Harford's 45 schools are 20 percent or more above capacity, but a few come close, said William G. Carroll, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

For example, William Paca-Old Post Road Elementary School has a population 18 percent higher than its seating capacity of 1,130 students. The school's enrollment this year is 1,340. Bel Air ElementarySchool is 17 percent over capacity. It has a capacity of 545 students and an enrollment of 636.

Carroll said his department will monitor school population projections and when they reach 120 percent or higher in a three-year period, the department would cease approval of new subdivision plans.

School Superintendent Ray R. Keech said theproblem is not what is happening now in county schools, but what is expected to occur in the 1995 school year. Student population projections will reach new heights then, he said.

"There are several schools that will be more than 20 percent over capacity in three years --C. Milton Wright High School is one," said Keech.

C. Milton Wright has a capacity of 1,120 students. In three years, administrators predict it will have a population of 1,696 -- more than 50 percent above its capacity.

By 1995, eight other schools are expected to have student populations 20 percent or more over capacity, said Alden H. Halsey, deputy superintendent of schools.

However, several new schools, either planned or under construction, should provide relief for those eight schools, so there should be no need for bans on new subdivisions.

"If any project is delayed, however, the bill could take effect," said Halsey.

Keech said three-year projections were selected as the basis for determining whether new subdivisions would be approved because that's about how long it takes to get approval for andbuild a new school.

School planning, however, is something of a "chicken and egg situation," said Keech.

"You need to allow the schools to go at least a little over capacity, or you'd never be in a position to justify building new schools. This plan sounds like a common sense approach," Keech said.

Schools must be approved by the state before they can be planned or built.

Carroll said he doubted that the adequate public facilities law would result in developers offering to pay for a new school so they could proceed with a development.

The average total cost of an elementary school, for example, is about $6 million.

CROWDED SCHOOLS

These schools are expected to beat least 20 percent above capacity by 1995. If a planned school or addition is not approved, or if there is a delay in construction, a temporary ban could be imposed on new subdivisions in that area, under a new proposal.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. PROJECT PLANNED

SCHOOL.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..FOR RELIEF

Bel Air Elementary School.. .. .. .. .. Forest Lake Elementary

Homestead-Wakefield Elem... .. .. .. .Route 24 South Elementary

Prospect Mill Elementary.. .. .. .. .. .. .Route 543 Elementary

RingFactory Elementary .. .. .. .. ..Route 24 South Elementary

William Paca Elementary.. .. .. .. .Abingdon and Belcamp Elems.

William S. James Elementary.. .. .. ..Route 24 South Elementary

Bel Air Middle School.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Addition requested

C. Milton Wright High School.. .. .. .. .. ..Addition requested

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