Adequate Facilities Plan Aids Developers At Public Expense

COUNTY FORUM -- Opinions by and for county readers

February 02, 1992|By John W. Taylor For | John W. Taylor For,The Howard County Sun

The proposed Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance contained in Council Bills 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and Resolutions 19, 20, 21, 22, and 23 makesfor very difficult, technical and sometimes hard-to-follow reading.

But after spending considerable time reading and rereading the package (and meeting with many on the APFO Commission), I'm convinced that adequate facilities are the one thing that this legislative package would not provide.

Although portrayed as a grand compromise by its authors, if this legislation were subject to truth-in-labeling requirements, this package would have to be titled, "The Developer's Relief Act of 1992."

There are two ways to attack the problem of developing adequate facilities requirements. The first is to assess realistically the currentinventory of development and available land by zoning category, thenassess current and projected financial and other resources, and thenadjust the master plan for land to fit those realities. This is commonly called "living within your means."

The second way is to pick a set of growth targets for housing and jobs and then force the resources to meet the targets. This is called "borrowing," or "living beyond your means."

The package now under consideration by our County Council fits the second category. If enacted without a virtual rewrite, it is sure to result in reduced levels of service on roads, more overcrowded schools and an increased tax burden on county taxpayers.

Examples are easy to find:

* ROADS: According to the DevelopmentMonitoring Reports, Dec. 1991 (Page 3): "It is estimated that 85 percent of roads in the county currently function acceptably (i.e. Levelof Service A through D) during peak hours."

The proposal would allow deterioration of our road network to Level of Service E for stateroads within the county, and D for county roads. Level of Service E,according to Resolution 22 (page 5A-13) means that "motorists frequently wait through two to three red cycles."

While the proposal hasbeen called a compromise, one wonders who is doing the compromising.If the package passes as it stands, citizens will have plenty of time to think about it at red lights.

* SCHOOLS: The proposal considers only elementary schools. It ignores middle and high schools and would allow development to continue in areas where schools are up to 120 percent of program capacity. This would supposedly bring Howard County in line with state standards.

However, many of us moved here precisely because Howard County was better than the state standard in education.

How many of us really want to accept lower standards inour schools simply so the developers can continue developing at the increased intensities called for in the unrealistic 1990 General Plan?

* TAXES: The proposal provides for a "building excise tax" underwhich the county taxpayers must contribute two dollars to a fund forevery one dollar contributed by developers. The APFO Commission estimates that the developers will contribute $6 million to the fund eachyear. That means the rest of us have to come up with $12 million each year.

Of course, one might ask how the $12 million per year willbe found in these hard times. It can come either through a tax increase, a decrease in other services, or through additional debt (which also involves a tax increase).

If the debt route is chosen, each $12 million will require about $1.2 million per year debt service eachyear for 20 years. And this compounds as each year adds another $12 million in debt to match the yearly $6 million form the developers.

While the present proposal is, well, inadequate from a citizen/taxpayer viewpoint, there are changes (major rewrites in this case) that could produce an acceptable APFO package.

These changes would include stringent road tests to include all categories of roads within a given impact area rather than just the first intersection of certain roads, as specified in the current proposals.

All schools would belimited to 100 percent of program capacity, period. Why allow any overcrowding?

Next, developer impact fees would be levied, with requirements to use those fees within the impact area.

The proposals seek to upgrade the overall road network through an additional tax on citizens; this just invites more and more road capacity (at our expense) to serve more and more development everywhere. Let's make development fit our roads with only reasonable upgrades, rather than constantly and unreasonably upgrade our roads to fit endless development.

Finally, let us adjust our General Plan to fit the realities of today and the future. The 1990 General Plan was written during a boom period unlikely to be repeated without immense tax increases to support such heavy growth. Let's adjust our land-use planning targets downward, not our tax levies upward.

Howard County needs a good APFO. Theone proposed is not good. Neither is it really an adequate public facilities ordinance.

That's my opinion; interested citizens can really only make an informed decision to support or oppose the legislation by reading it for themselves. To obtain the legislative package, call 313-2001.

An important document to use with the APFO package is the "Development Monitoring Report," available from the Department of Planning and Zoning, 313-2350.

I suggest that at the February legislative session of the county council, the package should be tabled for a rewrite or voted down in its entirety.

To pass it as is would be to place an unfair and unreasonable burden on county citizens just to benefit the development business.

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