Howard panel offers plan for excise tax on building Money to go toward roads and schools

December 03, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Reacting to public concern about crowded schools and congested roads, a Howard County commission unveiled legislation yesterday requiring new development to pay an excise tax for road improvements and to meet standards on road and school capacity.

It took the 12 commissioners -- representing developers, civic associations, the PTA Council and county government -- a year to agree on the legislative package, which must be approved by the state General Assembly and the Howard County Council.

"I am 100 percent behind it," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who appointed the commission to draft new adequate public facilities proposals after the former administration's recommendations failed to get the previous council's approval.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said he believed that the council would support the package with "minor adjustments" if the "coalition of diverse groups remains intact and the plan has the full support of the various groups."

He said he would favor an amendment to have public transit receive part of the projected $6 million in annual excise tax receipts that under the commission's proposal would be applied strictly to road construction. Under the proposal, the county would match each dollar of excise tax revenue spent on road improvements with $2 of local money.

Mr. Ecker said the legislation would "control, manage and direct growth without stopping it."

The proposal is based on the average of 2,500 new residential units a year outlined in the 1990 General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for county development.

The new residential development would be parceled out over six regions of the county -- northeast, Columbia east, southeast, Columbia west, northeast and west -- based on General Plan projections.

Residential plans would have to meet school and road PTC standards, while commercial and industrial development would only be subject to road requirements. For a project to win initial approval, the neighborhood school would have to be less than 20 percent above capacity.

A project denied approval because of school capacity could wait until an addition to the school or a new school is scheduled for funding in the county's 10-year capital improvement program, which the County Council would review annually. A project delayed four years because of crowded schools would be allowed to move ahead.

Development also would not be allowed if road capacity was inadequate in a two-mile radius in the west or in a one-mile radius in the east, or to the nearest major intersection. In areas where roads carried 90 percent of their traffic capacity at peak hours, development projects could be delayed until the county scheduled road improvements or the developer agreed to make them.

Development affecting nearby state roads would not be approved if the highways carried 100 percent of their traffic capacity at peak hours.

After meeting the school and road standards, a developer could expect approval of a final plat or subdivision in 18 months to three years, depending on the size of the project.

But the developer would have to pay an excise tax when a building permit is issued based on the size of the structure. The county figures to collect, on the average, $2,800 for each new detached house, $1,400 for each new town house and $500 to $600 for each new apartment unit. Commercial, industrial and institutional developments also must pay an excise tax. A typical convenience store would pay about $1,600.

Exempt from the road and school standards, however, are 7,000 approved, undeveloped residential lots and some 3,000 undeveloped lots under review for subdivision approval, though all still must pay the excise tax.

Mr. Ecker said he would introduce the legislation to the County Council in January, which means the earliest it could take effect would be early April. The excise tax enabling legislation, which has been prefiled in the General Assembly, would take effect July 1, if adopted.

Public hearings on the plan will be held at 7:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in the Banneker Room in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

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