Ecker Fears Homebuilding Overkill

Calls For Balance Of Houses, Businesses

April 26, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants local homebuilders to resisttemptation.

"I'm worried about build-out" -- the time when the county is fully developed, Ecker told about 50 members of the County Association of Homebuilders Thursday at their annual breakfast with himand the County Council.

"The average homeowner is subsidized by business and industry," Ecker said, referring to commercial property taxes that help support county government. "We have to resist rezonings (of business land for residential use)."

When the county is fully developed in about 30 years, the development mix should be 30 percent business and 70 percent residential, Ecker said.

The county is now about 78 percent residential, he said. "The higher it gets, the more burden on the homeowner," Ecker said. "My biggest fear is that we build a lot of houses (without increasing the ratio of business use)."

"I know we don't need office buildings now, but hopefully we will in 15 or 20 years," Ecker said. The county has an office vacancy rate of about 20 percent.

If homebuilders were upset by Ecker's remarks, they didn't show it. No one complained, said association president Joseph A. Firetti. The association endorsed Ecker over incumbent M. Elizabeth Bobo in 1990.

"If he had said he was calling for rezoning residential land for business, you might have hard a real squawk," said Nellie Arrington, chairwoman of the association's political activity committee. "But you don't see a lot of people standing on their hind legs and barking."

Saving land for business only makes sense, Arrington said. If the ratio of homes to businesses gets too high, the residential marketwill disappear because homes will be too expensive, she said.

"Most of us in the development community live here," Arrington said. "In20 years, we'll still be here and our children will be here. No one is going to go against good planning thought. We know that if we don't have the right mix, we're going to be very, very sorry with the results."

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, told the homebuilders he has put together a task force of builders, developers, real estate agents, housing activists and county employees to help find a way to increase the county's stock of affordable housing.

Gray said that since federal programs deal with housing for the poor, the task force is looking at housing for people who have annual incomes of about $40,000 -- 75 percent of the county's median income.

To build an $85,000 house, "we have to look at changes in set-back, road and open space requirements" in addition to allowing developers to build more houses per acre when they include affordable units in their developments,Gray said. "If it is to be successful, the program has to benefit not only the home buyer, but the homebuilder."

Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said that while he is opposed to requiring builders to cluster development in the western part of the county, he thinks voluntary clustering can be beneficial if used on large parcels. "A 300-acre farm could offer some real open space -- 200 acres," he said.

"There's no predicting what's coming," said Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "We have to reassess where we are." Pendergrass said she is working on a bill that would require developers to notify residents when a new project is being planned near their neighborhood.

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