Differences over building permits unresolved Commissioners, building industry work on adequate-facilities bill

December 02, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners and a representative of the building industry inched closer yesterday to an agreement on a proposed adequate-facilities ordinance.

But the question of whether to allow owners of recorded lots to obtain building permits on demand, as has been the practice, remains unresolved.

Yesterday's meeting was the latest in series the commissioners have held in an attempt to fashion an ordinance to manage the county's growth. The proposed bill would link residential subdivision approval to schools, roads and emergency services.

Recorded lots -- those that have been through the county's subdivision process and have been approved for development -- "are like motherhood and apple pie," Susan S. Davies, spokeswoman for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, told the commissioners during a 93-minute work session yesterday.

Once lots are recorded, owners pay higher taxes on them but until now were able to use the lots as collateral for loans because recordation assured the owner a building permit.

The use of recorded lots as a license to build is sacrosanct in the industry, Davies said, and changing it would be anathema to builders and lenders.

At least one lender refused recently to accept recorded lots as collateral for a Carroll subdivision, Davies said, because of the uncertainty about how the county will treat previously recorded lots.

The building industry has said it would accept a ceiling of 6,000 building permits over a six-year period but wants the 4,500 lots already recorded to be exempt from the bill.

The commissioners said that would thwart the purpose of the bill. The commissioners told Davies the bill would achieve in practice what builders want to preserve in principle -- that people with recorded lots who wanted to build within six years would get building permits.

Developers have argued that land values will plummet if owners of recorded lots can't get building permits.

Planning Director Philip J. Rovang was not so sure.

"If we can guarantee a building permit in 18 months, how much value will be lost?" Rovang asked.

Rovang said the county suffers from a reputation for crowded schools on the one hand and a lack of predictability on the other -- something he thinks the bill would cure.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said the bill would provide the consistency and predictability needed without having to exempt building permits.

Brown estimated that 1,000 of the 4,500 owners of recorded lots would to build immediately, and he said that could be accommodated in the first 18 months.

The remaining recorded lots are being developed at a rate of 10 percent a year, and the county should be able to continue to handle that demand under the proposed ceiling with developer agreements, Brown said.

Rovang urged the commissioners to resolve any remaining issues swiftly and enact the bill by Dec. 31.

"The sooner that we can make the announcement to the world that this [bill] is a reasonable approach [to managing growth] -- that it is fair, that is not going to be tampered with and that its going to provide top quality schools -- the better," Rovang said.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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