Facilities Law Could Delay 1,000-unit Apartment Complex

December 08, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Plans to build 1,000 apartments on 85 acres next to Bon Secours Health Park in Ellicott City could be delayed for several years if the county's proposed adequate facilities ordinance is enacted.

The draft ordinance aired last week puts a 4-year ban on development in any area where an elementary school is 120 percent over capacity.

St. John's Lane Elementary School, located opposite and across U.S. 29 from the property on which Baltimore developer Henry J. Knott Jr. wants to build his apartments, is just such a school. It is one ofthree projected to be 120 percent over capacity in 1995 -- the earliest date that the Knott proposal or projects like it could get through the county subdivision process, county planners estimate.

Knott's property is zoned commercial -- "planned office research." He petitioned the zoning board Nov. 1 to change the zoning to allow him to build apartments, but the zoning board has yet to hear his request.

"Until we see the legislation and have a strategy session with our lawyer, I don't feel qualified to comment about what we would do" if the project is delayed until 1999, said Harry Rodgers, manager for the Knott project.

"In the near term, we're still committed to moderately priced housing. It's a better idea than offices. If we are delayed -- if it's a long time out, we'll have to reassess our position. Wewill push forward to the extent possible."

The school test is a simple "go, no-go situation," said county planning director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. If schools are above capacity at the time people start moving into the development, the project would be put on hold.

Not only is St. John's Lane Elementary School overcrowded, but the school board also has no plans for another in the area because attendance is ultimately expected to decline. "Essentially no there's no new land to be developed" in that area, said developer James Schulte, presidentof the TSG Group.

Knott's plans could change that. If the apartments are approved and the adequate-facilities ordinance enacted as expected in February, his development would become a test of how well the ordinance works.

"Something would have to be done about St. John's," said Schulte, one of 12 members of a commission of developers, civic leaders, school officials and county employees that worked on the adequate-facilities proposal six hours a week for the past year.

"The school board would have to address the issue," but would have at least four years to prepare for the new development, Schulte said.

"The lead time is really critical," he said. "In the past, there was little control over the volume of projects, and the county went through wide swings of boom or bust cycles."

But this bill sets a limit on the number of projects in each region by tying it to new school construction.

The other major test required by the bill -- traffic volume -- would not necessarily stall or halt a project. The decision on whether to go ahead with a project that fails the roads test is "a matter of economics," Rutter said.

If road traffic rises above a level the county deems appropriate, de

velopers could wait to build their projects until after the state or county made needed improvements, or developers could move ahead with their projects by making the improvements themselves.

But matching housing allocations with school plans is the centerpiece of the draft ordinance and, according to Schulte, the "biggest bit of genius or the biggest headache" in the adequate-facilities package.

In other jurisdictions, adequate facilities legislation usually means cramming growth into one area until that area is used up, Schulte said. By tying growth to school capacity, the commission's proposal assures development will occur in stages at a pace determined by the general plan, Schulte said.

"Itwill have a major, major impact on the way development is done," he said. "In normal (economic) times, it would be excruciating, but there is very little in the pipeline now."

Rouse Company vice president Alton J. Scavo agrees. "Clearly, this will increase the cost of doing business," he said. "There will be pain, but the end result will be better."

Scavo, who is also a member of the commission, said that because the public will know well ahead of time where development is planned and that the schools and roads supporting that development will be adequate, the proposal will benefit everyone.

Developer Earl Armiger, speaking as a builder and not as president of the local chamber of commerce, said the proposed ordinance is "definitely a hit,no question about it."

"It comes at a time when we're already reeling from a credit crunch," Armiger said. "Developers are going to have to sit on property for several years, making it tougher to find a project. Land will not be sold as in the '80s. We'll be going back tothe days of options. There will be very long periods of settlement."

His primary concern, Armiger said, is that "the bill will add to the cost of housing when the buyer is already paying a tremendously high burden."

The state reforestation act will add $2,000 per house, and the building excise tax imposed in conjunction with the county adequate-facilities bill will add at least another $2,000, Armiger said. "It's a double whammy -- the government multiplying the cost of housing through legislation."

Despite his objections, Armiger said he will support the adequate-facilities package.

"It's a bitter pill, but it's better than the alternative of continued unpredictability" about future government regulations, he said.

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