Council members stand by growth law Some small developers complain that it's unfair

June 25, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Despite complaints from local developers, Howard County's system of controlling housing growth enjoys broad support in the County Council, members said at a work session last night.

"I'm very happy with it the way it is," Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican, said after the meeting. "It's doing what it's supposed to do -- slow the growth down."

The county's Adequate Public Facilities Law restricts annual growth within particular regions to limits set in the county's General Plan. The goal is to allow public infrastructure -- roads, sewers and schools -- to keep up with private development.

But developers complain the law is inflexible and unfair to smaller projects.

Several developers made that point at a hearing last week. Others recently spoke privately with County Council members in anticipation of the annual review of the law when the council approves the limits for each region.

Large developers with comprehensive projects have priority under the system and can reserve building sites years into the future. In fast-growing Ellicott City, where projects are backed up three years because of the Adequate Public Facilities Law, that can be a particular problem.

"It crowds all the rest of us out," developer Creston L. Cathcart said outside the meeting. "The system works for them [large developers]. It doesn't work for the rest of us."

He and other small developers want the restrictions under the law altered to make more room for small projects like his 20-lot development on Old Annapolis Road in Ellicott City.

Cathcart also favors special rules for developments in areas that already have infrastructure. Such developments, he said, prevent sprawl and do not burden the county.

At last night's the work session, council members talked extensively about the law. Some sympathized with small developers.

"How do those people compete with some of the players in the county, who have a lot more money, a lot more resources?" said council member Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican. "There seems to me to be an underbelly of unfairness here to the little guy."

But neither Schrader nor any other council member suggested changing the Adequate Public Facilities Law and its system of restrictions. Citing the law's delicate balancing act and complexity, they said a committee should review issues annually and recommend changes to the council.

Council member Charles C. Feaga, a west county Republican, would support repealing the law, saying the delays in areas like Ellicott City could amount to an illegal taking by the county.

He also questioned whether the law, which passed in the early 1990s after several years of intense building, slows growth. He said the recession may have brought more controlled growth anyway.

"Supply and demand would have taken care of itself," Feaga said after the meeting. "Those late '80s were not good years to judge by. I don't really think it's accomplished what people are giving it credit for."

But he acknowledged that there is little council support to change the law. The council plans to vote Monday on the law's limits.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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