Council Squabbles Stall Bill On Homes

Regulating Building Near Schools A Divisive Issue

April 29, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Three months after the Baltimore County Council bought time by extending a stop-gap law banning new home construction around crowded elementary schools, efforts to write a new law have stalled because of internal tensions on the council.

While members, in principle, favor a broader law ensuring that schools and other public facilities are in place before homes are built, the council has yet to agree on specifics.

"I think nobody has brought up any concrete proposals," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

The extended ban on home construction around crowded elementary schools expires July 1, 1999, but is outdated because it doesn't cover high schools, where crowding is projected to become a problem.

A consultant has predicted that, without action, the county would have 4,400 more high school students than desks by 2005. Overall enrollment is about 104,500 and slated to grow by 2,000 students a year for the next several years.

Towson Republican Douglas B. Riley was the latest council member to try drafting a measure, but he has dropped it, blaming tension with Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat.

Kamenetz was stung in the fall when his bill on the same subject was attacked from all sides, and he withdrew it.

Riley recently withdrew a bill to reform county sign regulations because, he said, Democrats led by Kamenetz wouldn't support it. Now the two members disagree on elected officials' salaries.

"I'm not going to put in a lot of time" on adequate facilities, said Riley. He added that Democrats on the council are following Kamenetz's lead instead of his -- a charge Democrats on the generally nonpartisan council deny.

Community and school groups want an adequate facilities law passed -- but business interests and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger don't.

"It sends a negative image to business. In my opinion, we don't need it," Ruppersberger said.

He noted that the county will receive $25 million in state school construction money July 1, plus $88.3 million in county funds lined up for school construction projects next fiscal year.

"We've had the best year in Annapolis in our history. If that doesn't work, then I can support an adequate facilities bill down the road," he said.

David S. Thaler, chairman of the board of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, agrees. With a 10-year master growth plan under preparation, he said, work on an adequate facilities law should wait. Builders argue that younger people moving to older homes, not home construction, is fueling enrollment growth.

But the new money is only a short-term fix, say county council members and PTA Council President Linda Olszewski. If no bill is approved this year, the onset of elections in 1998 will make agreement harder to reach, said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents Owings Mills and the North county.

Several members, including Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, and Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat Stephen G. Sam Moxley and McIntire, say they'll revisit the issue in June after the budget is done.

To reach an agreement, however, members must overcome some hurt feelings.

"Kevin felt the sting last time," Riley said. "He won't support it for some reason, and the council doesn't want to offend him, like with the sign bill."

But Riley acknowledged that his ego plays a role, too. "I was a little bit burned after the sign legislation," he said.

Kamenetz -- who shares private law-office space with Riley -- said he has no personal or partisan conflicts with Riley that would prevent working on an anti-school-crowding bill.

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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