Could efforts to relieve crowded schools jeopardize Harford's building industry?
Some Harford homebuilders say legislation being considered by the County Council could do that, and they voiced their concern last week during a hearing on a bill aimed at preventing school crowding.
The council is considering an adequate public facilities bill that would impose temporary building moratoriums in areas where schools either are 20 percent over capacity or would be within three years ofthe date a developer applies for preliminary subdivision approval.
Moratoriums would be lifted once new schools are built or if the student populations at overcrowded schools decline.
But county builders say the moratoriums should be lifted sooner under certain conditions.
"We want something in the bill that says if a moratorium is in place for one year or two years, and no plans are made to build thefacilities, that the moratorium would be lifted," William P. Maloney, president of the Harford County Home Builders Association, testified at a public hearing on the bill Tuesday. Malone's company, W. P. Maloney Inc., is based in Harford.
"We're not just a handful of developers and builders," he told the council.
"We're carpenters, plumbers, electricians, drywall hangers, supply houses and all their employees, real estate brokers, insurance companies.
"We're a vast network of individuals who live here in Harford and pay taxes here and spend money here.
"Stoppage of growth would stop all those jobs."
Council members themselves questioned at what point student populations would trigger the moratorium.
The council delayed action on the bill until at least Jan. 7, pending answers to some of those questions. The council must act on the bill before Jan. 21, or it dies forlack of action.
During the public hearing council members closelyquestioned Deputy School Superintendent Alden H. Halsey and William G. Carroll, the county's planning and zoning director, about the planned cutoff point.
At one point in the Tuesday hearing, Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, noted that Prospect Mill Elementary -- with a population 18 percent over capacity being one of the county's most overcrowded schools -- would not trigger a building moratorium under theproposed legislation.
"Do you realize we have all these new elementary schools opening (to relieve overcrowding at Prospect Mill and other elementary schools), and Prospect Mill still hasn't hit 120 percent?" Pierno asked. "They have eight portable classrooms.
"That makes me question whether your number should be lower."
Carroll saidthe decision to cut off approval of preliminary subdivision plans ifschools in an area had reached 120 percent was "based on our best professional judgment."
He noted counties must demonstrate schools are overcrowded before the state will approve construction of new ones.
"This is (a) process of developing community standards for facilities. The point at which you consider a school is the most crowded is subjective and a judgment you have to make on behalf of the people of Harford County," Carroll said.