Howard's Workable Growth Plan

December 05, 1991

After a year of dickering, a Howard County task force finally has come up with a workable scheme to handle development near crowded roads and schools. The proposal, a compromise reached by builders and slow-growth advocates, links housing projects to the availability of classroom space and new roads. A developer desiring to build near a crowded school would have to wait until there was space to accommodate new students. A similar methodology would apply to roads. Developers also would pay a tax -- about $2,800 for each single family home. This would go into a special transportation fund matched 2-1 by the county.

In essence, the task force's plan recasts a tougher, highly controversial measure advanced by former County Executive Elizabeth Bobo that would have obligated builders to carry a much larger chunk of infrastructure costs. Among other things, it would have required developers building in overburdened areas to provide school sites and to improve road conditions -- regardless of the impact of their proposed projects.

The new proposal attempts to avoid the more objectionable facets of that earlier plan -- the perception that the county was abdicating its duty to build new roads and schools and the tTC notion that new builders were being unfairly penalized for previous lax policies. Yet the proposal is already running into opposition from forces championing affordable housing and mass transit. Backers of inexpensive housing fear the building tax will be passed on to homebuyers in a market already skewed toward high-priced homes. County Council President Vernon Gray wants to see money from the building tax applied to mass transit initiatives.

Still, the task force has come up with a plan worthy of approval. Despite his concerns about mass transit, Mr. Gray supports the plan's passage "with minor adjustments," provided the coalition of diverse groups represented in its drafting remains intact. We agree. Over the next week or so, residents, businesses and others will get the chance to voice their concerns.

It would be a shame to see this plan shelved. The task force -- a dozen individuals representing the diverse players in the growth wars -- has spent a year debating the concerns of their constituencies. The result is a considered, thoughtful solution that could work given a chance. Task force Chairman James H. Eacker noted that the plan depended on "enormous concessions from everybody." Its approval will demand no less.

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