Managing Growth in Annapolis

January 03, 1994

A developer's request to build 162 town houses in Annapolis between Aris T. Allen Boulevard and Bywater Road ought to make that town's City Council realize it is time for members to stop approving growth carte blanche just because it enhances the local tax base.

Expanding the tax base is critical to the city's health, especially because so much of the state capital is covered by tax-exempt Maryland and Anne Arundel government property. But with warning signs flashing that the growth is getting too great for schools and roads to handle, it is time to come up with a system for balancing Annapolis' financial interests with the quality of life of existing residents.

Annapolis is not subject to Anne Arundel County's adequate facilities law, which requires developers to pay "impact fees" to offset the cost of new services. At the same time, city leaders have failed to develop their own strategy. A recent hearing on the 162 town houses, called Oxford Landing, seemed to jolt the council into realizing it can no longer ignore the issue. With the Anne Arundel Board of Education protesting that the project would cause school overcrowding, the Annapolis council argued whether to charge the developer $500,000 for school construction, as the county would done.

As far as Oxford Landing is concerned, though, the debate comes a little late. The project has been in the works for two years, and school and city officials barely made a peep about it until now. The developer has followed all the city's rules and is nearing the end of the process. It would be unfair for the city to change the game at the 11th hour.

What it should do is put its newly raised consciousness into action, devising a plan that allows growth while making sure public services can support it. Annapolis needs its own adequate public facilities law. And, because mostly county facilities are at stake, it needs more coordination with the county administration and the school board, which often look at school crowding issues from different angles. If a school is full, should a project be denied if nearby schools have room? County and school officials may offer different answers to such questions. The city needs to weigh all of them to make wise, fair decisions about development.

It can't waste time. The area around Oxford Landing and Oxford Mews, a 194-unit development the council has already approved, has the potential for 1,000 more housing units.

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