Permit numbers drop for residential building Fall of 33 percent likely for year, short of budget estimates

September 17, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A dramatic drop in residential building permits this year is no surprise to Carroll homebuilders -- who are taking their business elsewhere, industry representatives say.

Through Aug. 31, 528 permits have been issued. If the rate remains constant through December, only 792 would be issued for the year -- a 33 percent drop from last year.

Planning Director Philip J. Rovang told the county planning commission yesterday that he expects the total to be about 775 permits. The county budget office has based its revenue projections for this year on 950 permits.

The number of permits was expected to decline from the 10-year average of 1,279, because of a countywide ban on new subdivisions. The County Commissioners adopted the ban in a split vote April 25, 1996, and extended it for nine months on Jan. 16.

County officials had thought enough subdivision plans were in the county development pipeline for permits to average 950 a year under the ban, even though the county planning commission has been holding up most of the subdivision plans brought before it.

While those two factors account for much of the decline, they do not account for all of it, Rovang told the planning commission yesterday.

"We are still not sure what is causing it," he said.

Developer Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc., says the cause is "the negative perception of Carroll County that has pervaded over the last 18 months by a small handful of citizens, county politicians and been exacerbated by the press."

Carroll's residential development fees are forcing developers to look elsewhere, Hull said.

"The fees are the highest in the state, and the development risks BTC are so great, there are better deals elsewhere," he said.

Susan S. Davies, government relations liaison for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, agrees.

"The fact of the matter is that nothing is happening" in Carroll, and "most builders are looking to other counties to develop," Davies said.

The only item to come before the most recent meeting of Carroll's subdivision advisory committee, Davies said, was "one renovation to an existing business."

Hull said the only people going to the planning commission for subdivision approval these days are "those who are trapped -- those who have partially developed their subdivisions and are caught in the middle."

Fees prohibitive

There is becoming less and less of a market for new homes in Carroll, even among developers still allowed to build them, Hull said, because county fees -- which are passed along to homebuyers -- are making homes too expensive.

"I think the consumer has reached his limit," he said.

Developers pay the county an average of $15,000 in fees for every house built in Carroll -- "10 percent of the cost of a $150,000 home," Hull said.

Decreased revenues

If Rovang's prediction of 775 permits holds true, the county would take in $2.6 million less than expected. Ultimately, county residents may have to make up that difference by paying higher taxes, Hull says.

Slow-growth activist Carolyn L. Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council, said she doubts that developers will go elsewhere, because every jurisdiction in the Baltimore area is looking to slow residential growth. The slowdown in building permits "will be used as an excuse to raise taxes," she says.

County officials have sought to offset slowed residential development with an increase in commercial and industrial development to raise the county's business tax base.

They may be succeeding. Commercial and industrial development is up 33 percent over last year, Rovang told the planning commission yesterday. Not all of that increase is taxable, however, Rovang said, because schools and government buildings are included in the commercial and industrial statistics.

Chain reaction

The county's commercial and industrial growth over the past year cannot continue without residential growth. Businesses are not going to come to Carroll without customers, and industry won't come unless there is housing for its work force, Davies said.

"People have to have places to live," and the current policy is encouraging workers to live across the state line in Pennsylvania, she said.

The Pennsylvanians "are mostly brown baggers" who "don't frequent the restaurants and don't frequent the stores," she said.

"There are massive amounts of money we are not taking in because of this," Davies said. "It is very frustrating."

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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