Bill to curb residential growth aired Commissionsers seek building permit limit of 6,000 in 6 years

Adequate facilities key

Critics say plan would stifle homebuilding industry in county.

October 09, 1997|By JAMES M. CORAM | JAMES M. CORAM,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners proposed a growth control bill yesterday that would limit residential development to an average of 1,000 units a year and confine it to areas where schools, roads and public services are deemed adequate to support it.

The bill, which some developers say could cripple the homebuilding industry in Carroll, requires the commissioners to determine annually which parts of the county can handle residential growth.

The commissioners would decide the number of building permits to be issued -- no more than 6,000 in a six-year period, including those issued in Carroll's eight municipalities.

Permits would be issued to builders in qualifying areas on a first-come, first-served basis.

Commercial and industrial development would be exempt from the bill along with rural residential lots known as off-conveyances. All other residential development would be tied the county's capital budget.

If schools, roads, police and fire protection or water and sewer facilities in an area were deemed inadequate and no remedy was provided in the county's six-year capital budget plan, development could not go forward in that area.

Development would not be allowed to proceed in an area if:

* Schools were 21 percent or more over capacity.

* The projected level of service on roads and intersections was below D (on a scale of A to F, according to the county road design manual).

* The projected number of "late" or "no response" incidents at the nearest fire and emergency service to a site was 15 percent or more. "No response" means that another company responded when the closest company did not.

* The number of police officers was fewer than one for every 1,000 residents.

* The number of allotted building permits for a particular area had already been assigned. The county would not assign more than 50 permits a year to any subdivision.

Public work session

The commissioners' staff briefed the members on the bill at the Bear Branch Nature Center yesterday in a public work session attended by a several developers and landowners.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who has been calling for passage of an adequate facilities law since his election in 1994, called the bill "a very positive step," despite what he said was his distaste for government regulations.

"After all the study, reasoning, and dialogue" by residents and county officials who worked on the measure the past year, Dell said, "we are very close to an ordinance that will work." And if parts of the proposal "don't work, we'll fix it," he said.

Developers and landowners, seeing the proposal for the first time, huddled together to talk about how various portions would affect them.

Gregory S. Dorsey, president of the local chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland and a member of the citizens' group that did background work on the proposal, said the final draft has "too many hoops."

The county is "over regulating," he said. "It's bad for the county. You cannot separate industrial and commercial growth from residential growth. They all go together."

Right direction

Manchester-based developer Martin K. P. Hill, who attended yesterday's work session, reacted cautiously to the adequate facilities proposal, saying, "It seems like a move in the right direction."

"It's better than the brick wall with no doors" that he and other developers have experienced under the growth controls of the past 18 months, Hill said.

Westminster attorney Clark R. Shaffer expressed similar thoughts.

"I'm not sure I understand the full impact on recorded lots" that have been through the process, but for which no building permits have been sought, Shaffer said.

County Attorney George A. Lahey said those lots might not qualify for building permits if they are in an area that fails to meet the bill's adequate facilities criteria.

Need certainty

Regardless, the bill might be "a step in the right direction" if it lets developers know what to expect, Shaffer said.

"Business craves certainty," he said. "The present system is haphazard."

A developer, Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc., said the commissioners' proposal is "economic devastation again."

Hull said he expected the bill to be adopted, but predicted it would last only two years or so.

"Nobody [in the homebuilding industry] will be doing business," he said.

"If the citizens don't want [residential] development, fine. But they better get ready to pay a $3 property [tax] rate because business will not be carrying its share of the tax burden," he said.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown praised the bill as "a formula that allows Carroll County to grow with grace." He and Commissioner Richard T. Yates have been looking to control the county's residential growth ever since their election in 1994 on slow-growth platforms.

Growth slowed

The 1,000-unit annual ceiling on residential development called for in the bill is 29 percent less than the 1,404 the county averaged from 1993 until last year.

The numbers shrank to 864 in the past fiscal year -- a decline attributed to an interim growth control measure voted by Brown and Yates and to slow-growth efforts of the county's planning commission.

The proposed adequate facilities law "will get the county out from behind the eight-ball put there by previous administrations," Yates said, "and will please just about everybody."

The commissioners will have to "massage it some, but basically, it's not going to change," he said.

The commissioners expect to enact the bill by the end of the year. They plan to hold public information meetings on it next month.

! Pub Date: 10/9/97

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