County panel wants to abolish ban on building near crowded schools 6-year-old moratorium limits home construction

January 25, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is moving to end the controversial 6-year-old law that bans home construction near crowded elementary schools.

A County Council-appointed committee narrowly agreed this week to recommend that the law be allowed to expire June 30. The group also called for a study to find a permanent solution to persistent crowding, such as a local law requiring developers to help fund public improvements in areas of crowded schools.

The fight over the moratorium, which applies to districts where elementary schools are more than 20 percent over capacity, has pitted homebuilders against school advocates.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III pushed to let the moratorium law expire last year, and Michael H. Davis, his spokesman, said nothing has changed his mind. "There is no rampant growth [in Baltimore County] anyway," Mr. Davis said.

This year, the moratorium list includes six schools: Featherbed Lane, 7th and 5th districts, Riderwood, Catonsville and Reisterstown. Three others -- Kingsville, Seven Oaks and Hampton -- are more than 20 percent over capacity, but are next to districts that are not crowded.

The 4-3 committee vote came after several sharp exchanges between builders, who argued that they are scapegoats for the county's unwillingness to pay for new classrooms, and residents, who believe the law offers some protection against crowded schools.

Committee member Robert D. Sellers of Reisterstown said that without the moratorium, Baltimore County would be the only large metropolitan county without impact fees or adequate public facilities laws as protection against overdevelopment.

Tina Bianca, a Kingsville parent active in her crowded school's PTA, said, "People in the community feel [the moratorium is] their only protection against the homebuilders."

But builder Larry Macks said the moratorium merely hurts the county's building industry. The county should put the cost of a plan to build additional schools before voters in a November referendum, he added.

He argued that the days of large-scale growth are over in the county. With increasing urban ills, Baltimore County is a hard sell to homebuyers who can find lower prices and lower crime rates in areas such as Harford and Carroll counties, he said.

The committee was appointed last fall by then-council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat. Seven of the 15 members were absent Tuesday night.

The committee's findings will be presented to the County Council, which will decide whether to heed or ignore them.

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