THE PURPOSE of Howard County's 1991 growth law was to prevent development from sprouting unpredictably like crabgrass, overwhelming schools and roads. The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance was adopted after a housing surge swelled school populations and snarled many intersections.
The law has worked like radar to alert county and school planners years before new neighborhoods fill with schoolchildren and mini-vans.
Half the state's jurisdictions -- and all of the fast-growing suburban counties -- have such APFO laws in place.
The growth law returned some sanity to the process. Officials now can prohibit growth in areas unequipped to handle it.
However, the plan came in for sharp criticism recently, when developers found an error that resulted from confusion between county and school planners. County officials, misinterpreting the school system's boundary lines, allocated more residential permits in western Howard than they should have five years ago.
County Planning and Zoning Director Joseph Rutter sought to correct this technical error by shifting those allocations from the west to the Ellicott City area, fast-forwarding projects in the pipeline there.
After opposition from residents, a compromise by county Councilman Darrel Drown and Chairman Dennis Schrader -- not based on any statistical factors -- would shift only half those allocations to Ellicott City.
The solution is not that simple.
There is no obligation for the County Council to correct the error if its adjustment would defeat the very intent of the APFO and push school and road capacity far past their limits.
Developer John Rice, who favors a shift, asks: "If the infrastructure and schools are in place, why not let the subdivisions proceed?"
It is a good question, but the public hasn't yet been told whether there is sufficient school and road capacity to handle the growth.
The proposed change in the law is the equivalent of scrapping the Bill of Rights because someone realized that Jefferson failed dot every "i". The council need not vote on a shift or the Drown-Schrader compromise tonight, as scheduled. Rushing through a change in the allocation process without determining the impact on schools and roads might undermine a law that has worked well for Howard County.
Pub Date: 7/07/97