Schools ask for 4-year project ban

Predicted crowding spurs request for curbs in northeast

July moratorium likely

Developers fear rule will decrease value of their property

April 25, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Starting in July, the area around Deep Run, Elkridge, Ilchester, Rockburn, Waterloo and Worthington Elementary schools in northeastern Howard County likely will be made off limits to developers for the next four years, as a means of preventing school overcrowding.

Maurice Kalin, associate schools superintendent, proposed the moratorium in a report to the county's chief planner, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., who expects the County Council to approve it. The decision would take effect July 6. Any project approved before then could proceed.

Planners projected 3,345 homes would be built in the schools' northeastern region from 1995 to 2001. Other projects would have to wait, which means it could be 2006 before any are completed, taking into account the four-year moratorium and construction time.

FOR THE RECORD - A story Sunday in the Howard County edition of The Sun said that school officials proposed a ban on real estate projects in the northeastern school district. School officials did not propose the moratorium, but instead prepared and submitted a chart that would be the basis of the moratorium under the adequate public facilities ordinance. The chart goes to the County Council for approval in June. The Sun regrets the error.

During the moratorium, owners of undeveloped land might see their property values temporarily plummet.

Land in that area "has no market value," said Jim Schulte of Security Development Corp., who had planned to buy 25 acres for a project in the affected area. He won't now.

"We have bought some properties for half of what they're worth during similar periods, but we won't consider buying a property unless we know we can build on it. You just can't do that," he said.

Michael Kuhn of Elkridge, who had hoped to sell the land to Schulte, said that while he understands the concern about crowded schools, the proposed moratorium could be a financial blow. Kuhn said the property, at the end of Elkridge Heights Road, has been appraised at $383,000.

"I never looked at the property as a grubstake, but [the loss of market value] would make a significant difference," Kuhn said. "I've received nothing on this property. All I've done is pay out on it. I can't take that for too many more years."

Kalin sent his proposal to Rutter on April 1, after he projected overcrowding in 2002: more than 600 students in excess of the 3,619-student capacity of six elementary schools in northeastern Howard.

He provided the data to the Planning Board in accordance with the county's adequate public facilities ordinance, which authorizes officials to halt development where it would push enrollment beyond 115 percent of capacity.

"It gives public school systems the chance to respond," Kalin said, "so we can plan, ask for funding and build schools in these areas. The attempt is to provide services while the growth continues."

This is not the first time a part of the county has been closed. From 1992 to 1995, the southeastern region was closed pending the opening of a pair of elementary schools, Gorman Crossing and Forest Ridge.

But the closing of the northeastern region is distinctive because no plan is in place to remedy the situation, though Kalin said the school system has three options that it will revisit next year.

One is to build schools; a second is to construct additions to existing schools or to use portable classrooms; the third is to redistrict, sending some students in the northeast to shrinking districts such as Columbia east.

Building would be unlikely, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said, because of the "unavailability of affordable and desirable sites for new schools in the area."

Redistricting would be the easiest solution, with implementation possible as early as the 2000-2001 school year.

"If they start the redistricting process in December, it would finish in March 2000," Kalin said. "If redistricting is chosen as a solution, then that solution would take place."

Last month, the county school board put off elementary school redistricting until next year, a decision that baffled people such as Schulte.

"Whenever the schools try to do something, they get a lot of parental opposition. This year, the board declined to do that, so we now have a situation where schools are under capacity and others that are well over capacity," Schulte said. "If parents would rather have their kids go to a crowded school, should the building industry be required to stop construction because you have empty schools where there [is] no building going on?"

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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