Growth Compromise in Howard

January 10, 1992

Three times in as many years, Howard County authorities have tried to push through a growth management plan. Each has been rejected with varying degrees of vehemence by both growth-control advocates and real-estate developers. The county's latest attempt may be the long-awaited compromise that frees it to move onto other pressing concerns such as economic development and affordable housing.

This latest proposal would bar new construction in areas of Howard where elementary schools are 20 percent or more above capacity and where roads are being used at 90 percent capacity or higher. It also includes a construction tax of up to $2,800 apiece on residential units. The money would flow into a capital improvements pool matched by county dollars.

The Ecker administration's plan isn't perfect. It would still allow construction in areas where roads and schools were near or above capacity. It also doesn't address the problem of overcrowding in middle schools and high schools.

What it does do is inject predictability into the development process. Local school officials -- who have had to play musical chairs with portable classrooms to accommodate spurts in elementary school enrollment -- will now be able to anticipate and plan for future growth. Even more important, at a time of severe and continuing budget contractions, the construction tax provides a means of paying for much-needed capital improvements in this fast-growing subdivision. By 1998, elementary school enrollment alone is expected to jump by more than 3,000 students.

We view this plan as a reasonable resolution to a vexing issue that has dominated Howard County politics since the late 1980s. It squarely and adequately addresses the central concern in the growth debate -- ensuring that future construction occurs only where there are adequate roads and schools. It is time for Howard to move on to other pressing concerns that need to be addressed. The growth debate has dominated county politics long enough.

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