Commercial and industrial development has increased in Howard County, while residential growth may be slowing, according to a new report hailed as good news by County Executive James N. Robey.
State figures show that nearly 7,000 jobs were created in the county in the 12 months since June 1997, more than twice the number predicted in the 1990 General Plan. And more nonresidential building permits were issued last year than in any year since 1992, the report says.
The pressure of residential development may be easing, the report indicates. Fewer residential building lots were recorded between October 1997 and Sept. 30, 1998, than in "any year since we began this reporting system eight years ago," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning director.
Such statistics are encouraging because Howard residents have been worried about rapid residential growth -- and the increased pressure on schools, roads and taxes. Officials have been pushing for more jobs, as a way to broaden the county's tax base.
"It's the ideal scenario, exactly what you want to see," Robey said. "The indication of a tremendous increase in our offices-services sector is very welcome because that means increased tax revenues without as many demands for [county] services."
The permits represent nearly 3 million square feet, with offices and service uses leading manufacturing and industrial uses.
Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman of western Howard agreed with Robey that the report brought good news overall. "It is significant in the sense of what will happen in the future. It might mean there will be less building permits in the future."
But County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Laurel-Savage Democrat, questioned the quality of the jobs. "Are we getting the right kind of jobs?" he wondered, noting service jobs often pay less than manufacturing or industrial ones.
The report, required under the county's 1992 adequate public facilities law, contains enough ups and downs to make the overall meaning less than certain.
While only 983 residential lots were recorded last year, compared with 2,936 the previous year, that number was unusually high and Rutter agreed that builders might be using up inventoried lots before recording new ones.
Housing sales last year were up 33 percent and population growth was higher than the previous year.
Nearly 5,000 home sales helped spark a population increase of 6,887 by census estimates, compared with 4,377 the year before.
"Young families keep moving into Howard," said Roselle George, the planning department's chief of research. Noting the high number of births -- 3,347 in the fiscal year ending July 1, 1998 -- as a major part of a 3 percent population increase, along with the rapid development of River Hill, Columbia's newest village, George said, Rutter called the increase a "spike" that will be offset in the long run by other factors -- such as the county's growing senior population, which is predicted to triple by 2020.
John Taylor, a leader in the slow-growth movement, said the development report figures sound like good news -- but only if the housing demand doesn't surge.
The larger question, he believes, based on the thousands of lots already zoned for development, is "how do we get our zoning under control?"