Planners study new strategies to limit growth Contractors wary as county reviews school crowding issue

'A learning process'

Enrollment statistics will help provide criteria for rules

November 22, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county Planning Commission went to school yesterday, studying how to slow development in areas where new homes would mean more crowded classrooms.

After agreeing in September to halt residential construction near elementary schools that are above capacity, the commission is grappling with rules on adequate public facilities that will define how and when enrollment could justify denying approval for future development.

Seven county elementary schools are above capacity, four in the Eldersburg area, two in Westminster and one in Hampstead.

"If I were a developer, I would want to know where the Planning Commission is going," said David Duree, commission chairman.

Members met at Bear Branch Nature Center to review enrollment figures provided by county school administrators, who determine the adequacy of a school building. They discussed school and class sizes, the use of portable classrooms, the growing numbers of transfer students and redistricting options.

If one school has room and a neighboring school is overcrowded, the school board should consider redistricting students, said commission member Robert H. Lennon.

"If a capacity is not being maximized, we should take that into account," he said.

Mr. Lennon also suggested studies on "the ability to permanently expand existing schools."

Commission member Zeno M. Fisher Jr. called for a review of all options before looking at new construction. "The last thing I want to do is spend [county] money," he said.

The commission hopes to use the information gleaned from school enrollment statistics as early as next month, when it reviews new subdivision requests.

"The study will give us direction for what we are going to adopt as criteria now that we are in a learning process," Mr. Duree said. "This is the information we need to make decisions."

Several developers asked for a voice in the decisions.

"We appreciate that you are grappling with a fair system," said Lawrence M. Macks, an Owings Mills contractor who is developing properties in South Carroll, where every school already is at or over capacity.

Mr. Macks said he wants the county to set up a system in which a ruling on adequate public facilities would be made when the commission approved preliminary construction drawings.

"You all have to make your decisions before a project gets to recording plats," he said. "It's not fair to leave us in Neverland, when we have signed our lives away with banks and public works agreements."

Richard Hull, an engineer with Carroll Land Services, said timely decisions from the commission let a developer know when to proceed.

"We are trying to find a level playing field so we can run as a business rather than a lotto," said Mr. Hull.

Mr. Macks said he will make a presentation to the board in January on constructing modular classrooms for existing schools.

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