Growth bill is likely to go to vote Much-revised measure may face more fixes

January 05, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners may enact a long-awaited residential growth-control measure tomorrow night after a public meeting on the 14-page bill.

The commissioners revised their adequate facilities bill Dec. 17 to make it more palatable to bankers, builders and developers, who had severely criticized a clause that would have affected owners of recorded lots.

The bill initially would have barred building on recorded lots -- lots recorded in the county court as eligible for development -- if the lots were in parts of the county that failed to pass adequate-facilities tests for schools, roads and public safety.

Bankers and developers told the commissioners at a Nov. 12 public hearing that the county's practice of allowing residential property owners to obtain building permits for any recorded lot is sacrosanct. To change that practice would create chaos in the business community and cause irreparable harm to landowners, the commissioners were told.

The clause was deleted, one of more than 50 changes in the bill since the initial draft Oct. 7.

More may come. Commissioner Donald I. Dell, for example, wants to make several revisions to the bill during a work session tomorrow morning, but he doubts the other two commissioners will support most of them.

Although he "is in no rush to vote on the bill," he thinks his colleagues will call for a vote tomorrow night after the public information meeting.

Explicit language

The bill is designed to link residential growth and the county's ability to provide adequate schools, roads, public facilities, police and fire protection. Dell wants that made explicit by adding language saying residential growth is contingent on the county's ability to provide adequate facilities and services.

"The [county] budget should drive growth rather than having growth drive the budget," Dell said.

Dell wants the bill to include a clause requiring the county government to be evaluated each year to determine how much new debt, if any, it can afford.

"Somewhere along the line, bond sales have to be looked at real critically," Dell said. The county uses bond sales to raise money for schools, roads and expensive public works projects.

"The budget really gets tight when you include a $16 million shortfall projected at the school board level," Dell said. "It bothers me about how we're going to get over that hump."

Conflict with state law

Dell also wants appeals of decisions to limit growth to go to the county Board of Appeals instead of to a review panel that would be established under the bill. Establishing such a panel would conflict with state law, Dell said.

Another change Dell wants would exempt minor subdivisions -- those of five lots or less -- from the proposed growth controls. Since 1992, 371 lots in minor subdivisions have been approved for residential construction, Dell said. The bill exempts minor subdivisions in agricultural zones only.

The other two commissioners oppose his wish to exempt all minor subdivisions and to eliminate creation of a review panel, Dell said.

"If they don't change their minds, I'll be unhappy. But I'll have to live with that," he said.

Slow-growth activist Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council, predicts most South Carroll residents will also be unhappy with the bill.

Outdated criteria

Fairbank called the bill a "farce," saying, "It is an affront to the citizens of South Carroll" because of flawed and outdated adequate-facilities criteria.

She said she doubts that residents will come to the 7 p.m. meeting at Westminster Senior Center to share their concerns.

"Mostly, they believe there is nothing they can say that will change anybody's opinion," she said.

K. Marlene Conaway, the county's deputy planning director, said her office has received virtually no comment about the bill since agreement was reached with bankers, builders and developers in December.

"I think the concept of managing growth in such a way that it does not occur faster than the county can afford has broad support," Conaway said. "It's how we get there that people sometimes have a problem with."

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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