Impact study is pushed to limit growth Schrader pledges idea in opening campaign for county executive

Focus is residential projects

Feaga opposes concept of his opponent: 'We should not interfere'

March 29, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

On the ideological battlefield that is the Republican race for Howard County executive, Dennis R. Schrader continues to be on the offensive, leading the charge into the contentious fight over development.

Schrader, a county councilman whose district includes North Laurel, says that if he is elected he will require developers of new residential projects to submit fiscal impact studies of their proposals before they are granted building permits.

"I think we need to look at an approach to control all of our growth," says Schrader, who made the pledge last week during his formal announcement. "We have to make it work economically for us."

His chief rival for the GOP nomination in the September primary, County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, vehemently opposes such a concept. The only Democratic executive candidate to file so far is former county police chief James N. Robey.

"We're not developers, we're not in the development business, we don't know the background, and we don't know the market," says Feaga, whose district includes the western portion of the county. "And to put it bluntly, I don't know too many officials who would know what to do with a fiscal impact study. We should not interfere."

Schrader says his plan would require developers to submit the fiscal analysis with any planning or zoning application. The study would be a tool -- not the standard -- for determining whether the project is beneficial to the county, he says.

As expected, the idea draws different responses from growth-wary residents and developers.

"It's a matter of good planning," says John W. Taylor, former president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth. "It's certainly something we would do if we were treating this as a business case, and in a sense, it's a business case for the county."

But developer Donald Reuwer, president of Land Design and Development Inc., calls the proposal misguided.

"I think Howard has an enviable track record" for managing growth, he says. "If it's not broke, don't fix it. We're doing wonderful."

This is not the first time Schrader has moved to appeal to voters who might want to slow the county's development.

Last month, Schrader's vote -- with the minority -- against a Rouse Co. request to rezone 517 acres in the area for a Columbia-style village undoubtedly appealed to many North ,X Laurel area voters. Feaga was one of three Zoning Board members who approved the request.

Views highlight differences

The opposing views on development issues highlight personal and ideological differences between the two candidates.

"Charlie is about as throwback as you can get," said Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon Political/Media Research. "He's a farmer who has been an elected official longer, been around longer and people know him.

"Dennis is a baby boomer, college-educated, a technical guy. He's a little bit more into the modern ways of doing politics."

Schrader says his fiscal impact statements would be required only of residential projects because a single-family home worth less than $300,000 typically does not generate enough in property tax revenues to offset the public services its residents use.

Conversely, businesses pay more in taxes than they receive in services, essentially subsidizing the residential areas of the county.

"What's driving the debt level in this county is growth, and we're not seeing fast enough pace of commercial growth," Schrader says. "The message is that we have to look hard at the economics of growth and the balance between residential and commercial areas."

But developers like Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., predict that Schrader's measure could force companies to build exclusively expensive luxury homes that would meet a pay-its-own-way financial standard.

"All of the housing would have to be at the upper end of the spectrum to pay their own way," Scavo says. "If we want to create an elitist community, this is the perfect tool."

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, also criticizes the idea, saying it provides unreliable data.

'Smoke and mirrors'

"You tell me what you want it to show, and I'll show it to you," he says. "It's all smoke and mirrors. We shouldn't let the bottom line dictate what is good land-use policy."

But Schrader is standing by his pledge -- even if it means losing campaign contributions from developers.

"It's not risky," Schrader says of his fiscal impact study idea. "There may be some builders who have an opinion, but we need to maintain a solid financial footing and stability. I see it being honest and straightforward."

The message is being well-received by slow-growth advocates like Peter J. Oswald, former president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association in Fulton.

"Dennis could propose anything in the world right now," Oswald says, "and people in the same mind bent as me still wouldn't vote for Charlie Feaga."

This is not the only issue Schrader has used to distance himself from Feaga.

In January, Schrader suggested repealing the county's $125 trash tax. The effort failed in the County Council this month, in part because of Feaga's opposition.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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