A divided County Council used parliamentary procedure last night to kill, without discussion, a legislative package that could have increased Howard's stock of affordable housing by 250 units a year.
"I'm very, very disappointed there was not more open discussion," said Councilman Paul R. Farragut. "I did not expect the [vote] to go the way it did."
The 4th District councilman had come to the meeting armed with amendments he hoped would save the proposal first put forward in October by Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd.
He never got the chance to present them. The legislation was never revived. It had been tabled twice since October in an effort to save it. By council rules, it could not be tabled again.
Tabling is a procedure legislative bodies use when they want to defer consideration of legislation to a specific time or when they want to cut off discussion on the proposals and bury them completely without voting them up or down. Last night, the council voted 3-2 to bury the affordable housing proposal completely by leaving it on the table.
Mr. Farragut had hoped to save the three-bill package of legislation by making it voluntary. He wanted the council and the county executive to evaluate it in two years.
Mr. Gray, who had worked with a 13-member task force over the past 15 months develop the legislation, had proposed that it be mandatory.
Modeled after a similar program in Montgomery County, the so-called moderately priced dwelling unit program would have rewarded builders who contributed to an affordable housing fund or reserved 10 percent of their units for households that earn 75 percent or less of the county's median income.
Participating households would have been able to buy homes similar in appearance to market-rate houses at about half the market price. Priority would have been given to first-time homebuyers, people who work in the county and households with the lowest qualifying incomes.
Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said he doubted that anyone other than people near the $43,000 income ceiling would be served. "Banks would make the last call," he said, and would probably lend to the highest income people regardless of the county's intentions.
Council members Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, shared Mr. Feaga's concerns and voted not to consider the legislation, but the real issue was growth.
In return for offering some units at cost, participating developers would have been allowed to increase the number of units in their developments by 20 percent. "We just can't afford a 20 percent increase in density," Mr. Drown said.
Earlier in the day, the Howard County League of Women Voters sent council members a letter saying the same thing.
"The County Council did the right thing," said Highland resident John W. Taylor, president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth. "The legislation was going after a positive goal in a negative way."
The defeat of the legislation will not have a major short-term impact, said Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing administrator. "Long term, with low-density zoning and no control over housing prices, we will probably end up with a very wealthy population -- a lot of aging older people -- and not much of a middle-class," he said.
Mr. Gray took the loss philosophically. "I'm disappointed -- not for myself, but for first-time homebuyers and employees who saw this as an opportunity to move into Howard County," he said.
Failure to enact the bill, Mr. Gray said, "sends the wrong message to people like Sears and Coca-Cola" that are planning to expand.