Excise tax on construction proposed in Howard County Draft legislation would limit growth, raise money for roads in new tracts.

December 03, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

After a year of weekly sessions, a group of people ranging from pro-growth developers to slow-growth advocates in Howard County has drafted legislation that seeks to limit development to areas equipped to handle it.

The county's adequate public facilities ordinance was proposed at a news conference yesterday in the County Council's chambers and was embraced by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

It will be introduced in the council during the body's January legislative session, officials said.

A key component of the proposal is an excise tax on construction that would cost builders about $2,800 for each new single family home and $1,400 for each townhouse, said James Eacker, chairman of the adequate public facilities commission.

The tax is expected to raise $6 million a year for a new fund to help build new roads. The county would be required to pay $2 for every $1 it uses from the fund to pay for road construction.

Eacker said commission members decided against proposing impact fees on development because that would only generate money in scattered areas of development, while the excise tax fund would provide for major improvements.

Members of the commission say the plan is much less complex than was an adequate public facilities ordinance proposed last year by then-County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, which eventually was shelved.

An ordinance was required by Bobo's 20-year blueprint for growth, which the council approved last year. The proposed legislation complements the general plan, limiting new construction to an average of 2,500 new homes a year.

Growth limits were sought after construction boomed in the county throughout the 1980s. In 1988 and 1989, more than 9,000 residential building permits were issued in the county of about 187,000 residents. Activity plummeted after the council passed Bobo's 18-month moratorium on construction, and now growth is being stifled by the nation's economic slump.

The Ecker commission's plan addresses future construction. It would prohibit the building of new residential units in an area if county roads in that area are projected to be at least 90 percent of capacity, or if state roads are projected to be at 100 percent of capacity at the time the development is scheduled for completion.

The proposed ordinance allows developers to proceed with development plans if they provide a "mitigation plan" to improve road capacity.

County Public Works Director Jim Irvin, a member of the commission, said one or more developers could mitigate road problems in their project areas by agreeing to build an intersection, traffic signal or turn lane.

If a project passes that test, it still could be stopped if enrollment in the area schools would be more than 15 percent over capacity when the project is completed. Eacker said that, based on school capacity, construction would not be allowed in areas around St. John's Lane, Bollman Bridge and Guilford elementary schools.

James Truby, a developer who served on the commission, said he was pleased that the proposal requires planning officials to decide early in the 32-step permit process whether a project could be approved. For years, developers have complained of being held up at the final stages of the process, after putting a lot of work and resources into their plans.

"I think the main thing the development community was looking for was a predictable system," said Truby, of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks.

Scot Hoeksema, of the Coalition of Community Associations, another commission member, has tried to get the county to slow growth in the county. He also was satisfied with the proposed ordinance.

"Everybody gave up something to make sure we could come up with a reasonable plan," Hoeksema said. "If you accept the general plan as the policy base and how it distributes growth across the county, this will control growth."

The commission has scheduled public meetings on the proposed ordinance at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City at 7:30 tonight, Dec. 9 and Dec. 12.

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