More suburban counties say 'enough' to growth As money grows tight, controls grow stricter

July 16, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Frustrated by their failure to get a grip on growth, Baltimore's suburban counties are resorting to more drastic measures to slow development and curb sprawl.

In recent months, nearly all of the area's counties have enacted anti-growth measures -- signs of a new sense of urgency in

communities fed up with crowded schools and roads.

Anne Arundel has slapped a building moratorium on the traffic-choked Pasadena peninsula; Baltimore County has extended a construction moratorium in areas where elementary schools are crowded. Carroll has stopped approvals of subdivisions in certain areas, and Harford has rejected a bid by homebuilders to expand the designated growth area.

Counties have been trying to manage growth for decades, but the driving force has changed. These days, with federal and state aid decreasing and property and income tax revenues flat, counties are strapped to pay for the new schools, roads and utilities that growth demands.

And the gulf between pro- and anti-growth forces appears to be widening. While residents complain that the government isn't doing enough, builders argue that growth-control tactics don't solve the problems and unfairly shift the cost of development onto those who buy new homes.

"It's a form of economic bigotry," says Gregory Dorsey, a Carroll homebuilder.

"The idea that we have to grow, grow, grow is insane," says Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents rural valleys and the Owings Mills growth area. He has pledged to preserve farmland and open space but also says older county neighborhoods are too crowded.

"I don't have this ignorant philosophy that growth is good," he says. "It depends on the kind of growth."

Twenty years ago, suburbs tried to control growth with low-density zoning, but that only made sprawl worse. From 1985 to 1990, the state lost 145,000 acres of farmland and forest, much of it to low-density developments.

More recently, counties have tried to shift the costs of development onto builders, through ordinances providing for transferable development rights ordinances, adequate-facilities laws and impact fees.

But those efforts have not solved all of the problems.

Cars back up for two miles waiting to exit from Route 100 onto Mountain Road in Anne Arundel County. Mountain Road, the only way from the heart of the county to the 1,200 residents on the end of the peninsula, has been called one of the nation's busiest dead-end roads, says Pasadena Councilman Thomas W. Redmond.

"If there's an accident, you're done," says Frank Halgas, president of the Greater Pasadena Council.

Meanwhile, in Carroll County, Kathy Horneman is fed up with crowded schools and is thinking about sending her two youngest children to a Baltimore County private school when they get older.

All five of Horneman's children attended Carrolltown Elementary School in Eldersburg, but she sees a big difference between the education her oldest received in the late 1970s and that her youngest received last year. When her oldest daughter started, the school was 3 years old and had 350 pupils; last year, 908 children were crammed into a building designed for 650.

"My first three children got an excellent education," she said. "My last two will go to private schools if I have the resources."

Anne Arundel and Carroll hope to buy time in resolving growth problems by enacting temporary building moratoriums.

This is the second time Anne Arundel has suspended approval of new subdivisions on the Pasadena peninsula. The first moratorium, from 1984 to 1989, was lifted when the state proposed widening Mountain Road. But community opposition blocked that plan.

"It's been a 20-year continuing problem," says Redmond. "The situation isn't going to be any better."

Carroll County, to gain time to develop a new master plan, is suspending for 18 months approvals of new subdivisions in areas where schools are crowded.

Carroll officials say they need time to develop a vision for the county. Dorsey, president of the local chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, argues that the moratorium will have long-term effects on the economy and will drive builders to Frederick County and southern Pennsylvania.

"Eventually, this anti-growth feeling is going to stop growth. Then people will know what depression is," he says.

John B. Colvin, a Baltimore County builder and member of the state's Economic Growth, Resource & Planning Commission, says it's ludicrous for county officials and community leaders to talk about stopping growth. "The question isn't if we'll grow, but where," he says.

Colvin, president of Questar Properties, which builds in Baltimore and Harford counties, is tired of counties designating growth areas and then restricting building in those areas. "Invariably, as soon as we get people in an area to live, work and shop, then they come out against you."

Builders also bristle at laws forcing them to help fund roads, schools and utilities, fees they invariably pass on to buyers.

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