Subdivision ban shows ripple effect Requests for permits for residential building down 45% this year

Homebuilders unhappy

Controls were spurred by inadequate schools, roads, other facilities

April 16, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll's efforts to control growth have pinched developers so hard that they are beginning to say more than "ouch."

Builders and the business community predicted that interim development controls imposed last year by the County Commissioners would "kill this county," said Gregory G. Dorsey, president of the local chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland. And the latest quarterly report of building permit applications "proves our point -- a point we hoped would not be proved," he said.

During the first three months of the year, builders sought 185 permits to build new homes -- 45 percent fewer than in the same period last year and 51 percent fewer than in 1995.

Dorsey said the news is grim because the numbers indicate a fallow spring.

"Spring is usually the biggest time of year for home builders," he said, noting that developers looking to build then typically apply for permits during a year's first three months.

"I had not anticipated this until fall," he added. "Economic stability is deteriorating more quickly than I expected."

County officials acknowledge that a countywide ban on new subdivisions, imposed a year ago as a temporary measure while the county adopts a new master plan to guide development, is partly responsible for the decline in permits.

"Developers are starting to realize that [the planning commission] is serious about inadequate facilities," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who, along with Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, voted to impose the ban.

The planning commission, Yates said, will not allow subdivisions where roads, schools, infrastructure and emergency services are not sufficient.

However, Robert H. Lennon, a planning commission member from Westminster, said the dwindling numbers indicate that the county might have been too extreme in limiting residential development.

"This is a phenomenal drop -- something I've been predicting for the last two years," he said. "If you don't have anything entering the pipeline, nothing is going to come out the other end."

Lennon said he would like to see revenues collected from residential impact fees added to the equation to determine the overall economic impact. Carroll collects $4,487 in residential impact fees on each detached, single-family home built in the county. The Board of Education receives $4,023, and the Department of Recreation and Parks gets $464.

Steven D. Powell, county budget director, told the commissioners last week that the permit figures show the effect of their commitment to expand industry and limit residential growth.

That commitment was evident during budget hearings in the past month, when the commissioners increased the budget of the economic development department by 13 percent, the largest increase for any department in the fiscal 1998 spending proposal.

Dorsey said his concerns are not alleviated by news that commercial building permits -- 90 were issued during the first three months of 1997 -- are at a five-year high, 58 percent above the four-year average for the same period from 1993 to 1996.

He said the county stands to lose more than the $67,055 in building permit revenue that county officials have predicted for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

"It sounds like the budget people have been very optimistic," he said. "I assume they have taken [the first-quarter numbers] into account."

Dorsey said the drop in residential building permits has a ripple effect. He said a friend who is a plumber has gone from working five days a week to three days and that another laid off his brother.

"When you start laying off your brother, it's pretty serious," he said.

In a letter to the planning commission, Planning Director Philip J. Rovang said yesterday that he did not know "if the significant downturn in residential permits is due to county regulations or a combination of economic factors and regulations."

Dorsey has no doubt.

"It's definitely the regulations -- from the state and the county, not just the county," he said. "They encouraged us not to build. And guess what? We're not."

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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