Wide relief for crowded schools asked Majority on council in Baltimore Co. likes adequate facility law

'Slow down the train'

Ruppersberger doesn't want replacement for building moratorium

August 27, 1996|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

With a Band-Aid to ease school crowding about to be peeled off the books, a majority of the Baltimore County Council is calling for broader, long-term relief to ensure development doesn't overrun schools.

And their push for change points up a rare schism with County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who sees no need for a replacement to the 6-year-old building moratorium that is set to expire Nov. 1.

But council members say they support broader measures than the makeshift moratorium, which limits homebuilding only around crowded elementary schools and was never envisioned as a cure-all.

"That's what got us into trouble: Development, development, development," Dundalk Democratic Councilman Louis L. DePazzo said yesterday. "You've got to let the caboose catch up to the engine. At least slow down the train."

DePazzo is among the council members looking favorably upon a so-called adequate public facility law or some variation. Common elsewhere in Maryland, such laws require that developers' plans be examined for impact on all schools -- elementary, middle or high.

If a new project triggers crowding, for instance, the developer might have to donate a site for a school, finance an addition or pay impact fees. If the crowding is not eased, the builder probably would not be allowed to break ground.

As the matter looms for public debate, DePazzo and at least four other councilmen agree the moratorium is no longer needed -- but some form of lasting legislation is. Republican Councilman T. Bryan McIntire did not return several phone calls, and Douglas B. Riley, also a Republican, could not be reached.

But to Ruppersberger, there's no need for legislation -- new or old.

Ruppersberger's reasoning is that a nearly $90 million school bond issue on the November ballot will -- if approved -- trigger so much construction that crowding would be eased and a new law wouldn't be necessary. This month, he persuaded the council to shift an additional $23 million to the bond issue to help head off a high-school crowding problem.

"We've really set a foundation to take care of our whole schools' crowding problem for a long time to come," Ruppersberger said. "Based on the allocations of monies we put in, we have solved the problem. That's why I think there is not a need for a law for adequate facilities or a moratorium."

Ruppersberger's view runs in line with the county Chamber of Commerce. But it runs up against the Council of PTAs of Baltimore County, which supports a new law to replace the moratorium.

And, in interviews, county council members made clear they don't agree with Ruppersberger, a Democrat, that the bond issue alone solves the problem.

"The $89 million bond issue does address a lot of the needs. But it's not enough," said Perry Hall Democratic Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who supports the concept of an adequate public facility law.

"The amount of money he's put in there is the most that's ever been put in. I think it certainly does eliminate the need for a moratorium. But the problem is, what happens in the future?"

Fullerton Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Democrat, said he's aware many in the business community oppose a new law.

Still, he said, "They're coming from the position of serving the interests they serve. And we've got to look at what's best to serve not only them, but all the people of Baltimore County. Which means both the business community and the residents, students and parents."

Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Randallstown-Pikesville Democrat, said he's "interested in doing more than just ending the present moratorium. I'm interested in examining how we can craft a law that provides for better planning in advance."

Kamenetz notes that an adequate public facility law, or APF, can take many shapes.

"It can swing from something very meaningless to something very restrictive, and I'm interested in finding something in between those two extremes," he said.

"I suspect a lot of the building industry is going to blanketly oppose the concept of an APF because of the extreme that it serves as a moratorium. I'm not interested in having a law that serves as a blanket moratorium. But I am interested in having a tool that exists for better planning."

Democratic Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley of Catonsville said he wants to give "serious consideration" to an APF law for the county. "I'm looking for long-range solutions," Moxley said. "I want to see something replace the moratorium -- that works."

DePazzo said that, even with the record school bond issue, there's potential for trouble unless a "constant reminder" is in place to rein in development.

"The short run is over and then the long run becomes the short run," DePazzo cautioned. "And you're caught off guard again."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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