Recorded lots mar growth debate Commissioners uncertain about permits on demand

November 20, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Carroll developers and the County Commissioners moved closer to agreeing on a residential growth control law yesterday, but some major obstacles remain.

The chief sticking point is whether to allow owners of recorded lots to obtain building permits on demand.

Recorded lots are those that have been approved for TC development. Once the lots are recorded, the owner can apply for a permit to build, pay higher taxes than for a nonrecorded lot and use the lot as collateral for a loan.

Despite higher taxes, some owners of recorded lots choose not to build on them immediately -- as in the case of a young family that buys a house and the lot next door as a future home for their children.

The problem for the commissioners is that the county has thousands of recorded lots for which no permits have been sought.

The proposed law would limit building permits to 6,000 in a six-year period. Permits would be freely available in some parts of the county, but strict limits would be imposed in fast-growth areas such as Finksburg, Westminster, and South Carroll.

Developer Richard L. Hull, president of Carroll Land Services Inc., urged the commissioners to write an exemption for all previously recorded lots.

"It is really difficult to agree to pay a full boatload of real estate taxes and get a loan of up to 80 percent and not be able to complete a project," he said. Without the exemption, banks that granted loans for recorded lots would have no protection if they foreclosed, Hull said.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown questioned how the county could justify granting unrestricted use of building permits in an area where schools are 150 percent over capacity with no relief in sight.

"We have 3,000 lots approved already and just sitting there," said Brown. "There's got to be some way to acknowledge those and still allow for new ones."

Although the county wants to slow development, planners say it needs an average of 1,000 new units a year to pay for schools, roads, public utilities and police and fire service.

"There has to be some trigger" that would lead people who own recorded lots to build within a certain time or have to reapply, Commissioner Richard T. Yates said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell wants to ensure that families who bought lots and recorded them for their children will be able to build on the lots when ready. He will be seeking an exemption in such cases. "People who have been holding lots for years and now have grown children shouldn't be left out of the loop," he said.

Dell also wants to bring state and local school officials together with the commissioners to see if they can agree on a mutually acceptable definition of school capacity that would be used to determine whether to restrict growth.

"I really want to be able to sign this ordinance," Dell said, "but I won't sign unless we have this meeting. We'll either come together or acknowledge why we can't."

Dell also wants surveyors, engineers, and developers to take part in a work session to deal with six concerns raised at a public hearing on the bill Nov. 12.

The commissioners have to decide what they are going to do about the public comments, Yates said, when calling for another work session. "I want to make sure those thoughts are included before we make any final decision."

After yesterday's work session, Brown spoke about what he called "a change in attitude" in the development industry. "They are by no means fans of regulations," he said, "but they have come a long way in seeing political and social forces and seeing that government needs to be responsive to the public's concerns about growth and the adequacy of schools and roads."

Susan S. Davies, spokeswoman for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, agreed, telling the commissioners she wanted "to put a positive note" on yesterday's work session.

"The industry is very supportive of the concept" of the adequate facilities bill, she said. "Bringing predictability to the industry is something we look forward to. Getting there is the hard part. I am encouraged that you are willing to listen."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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