Novel idea for home builders

Adequate facilities: If they build more where schools do have space, it would solve several problems.

April 03, 1999

HERE'S A NOVEL idea for builders such as the one suing Harford County, whose adequate facilities law prevents construction of homes near a crowded school: Build elsewhere.

Sprawl will continue so long as developers push new housing into areas where the infrastructure isn't, rather than proposing projects for older areas where the need for reinvestment is most critical.

You see this phenomenon repeated around the Baltimore region: Mini-mansions rise in Columbia's final village, River Hill, while older neighborhoods elsewhere in Columbia and along Howard County's U.S. 1 corridor battle perceptions of crime and grime.

In Baltimore County, Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has rooted out bad landlords in the hope of revitalizing the older east side, where dwindling population is causing officials to examine closing underused schools. The county has had an easier time generating enthusiasm for Honeygo, the planned "village" carved from farmland along the Gunpowder.

The reason is simple: Developers and lenders are more likely to back a project in an up-and-coming area than in one with falling property values. It's why NationsBank exhorted other lenders to join its plan to invest $100 million in West Baltimore.

In its suit against Harford County, Fallston Valley Farms LLC alleged that the school system underestimated the capacity of a middle school, effectively blocking it from building nearby. A week earlier, the Board of Education had rejected another builder's request that it move school boundaries to suit his plans.

The problem isn't the adequate facilities laws, which sensibly tie growth to the capacity of schools, roads, water and sewer systems. Redistricting schools to accommodate builders fractures communities whose only institutional anchors are the schools. The education system's mission, after all, is to serve children and families, not developers.

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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