Effort to speed up ban on homebuilding fails

Cutoff on construction in Ellicott City area to take effect July 6

May 04, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

An attempt to cut off approvals of new home construction near crowded schools in the Ellicott City area on June 7 -- about a month earlier than mandated by law -- failed by one vote at last night's Howard County Council meeting.

The session also kicked off three weeks of hearings and discussions on County Executive James N. Robey's proposed $683 million budget for fiscal 2000, which begins July 1.

Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, needed four votes from the five-member council to bypass parliamentary procedure and introduce his resolution. According to council rules, he should have pre-filed the measure by April 23.

He got three votes and had to fight chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, for time to state his case.

Gray and Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, voted against allowing Merdon's resolution to be introduced, effectively killing it.

The county's adequate public facilities law now will follow its normal course, imposing the ban on new development July 6.

The law was triggered by a county school board decision to postpone redistricting of Deep Run, Elkridge, Ilchester, Rockburn, Waterloo and Worthington elementaries until next year. Because schools in the district are more than 115 percent over capacity with no immediate remedy in sight, the law requires that building approvals stop July 6.

Merdon sought to hurry the deadline by a month to forestall any last-minute rush for approval, though no one appears to know how many new homes would be affected, if any.

"I can't see what practical effect it would have to help anyone," Lorsung said after the vote on Merdon's proposal.

She said that allowing introduction of the resolution could open the floodgates to others who might want elected officials to bypass county laws to stop development near their schools.

"That's not what the process is," Lorsung said. Gray agreed.

After fighting Gray to read a prepared statement, Merdon argued in the statement that "on Nov. 3, the people of Howard County demanded that we address this issue in an open debate. This resolution gives us that opportunity."

He blamed Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county planning director, for not telling the council sooner about the crowding problem.

Rutter, in the audience for the budget hearing, rejected the criticism.

He said he was merely following the adequate facilities law the county adopted in 1992 to regulate development around crowded county schools. School estimates of crowding he received April 1 changed on April 29, he said, and may change again.

Thomas W. Ballentine, government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, was pleased with the council's vote.

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