Rules limiting growth studied

Panel doesn't expect to make major change

June 14, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

It's crunch time for the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee.

The 17-member committee, formed in April by Howard County Executive James N. Robey, is entering the final stages of evaluating the ordinance that tries to match development to the construction of roads and schools.

Many committee members agree that the ordinance has been effective and does not need a major overhaul.

Their task has been a far cry from the 84 meetings the last committee endured when it drafted the ordinance in 1991.

"There is a difference in that eight years ago, we started from scratch," says Jim Eaker, who chaired the committee then. "That's not the case now. We have an ordinance in place that has worked."

The group hopes to compile a list of recommendations by July 12 for Robey, who, like most of the County Council candidates last year, campaigned for managed growth.

A public hearing on the effectiveness of the ordinance begins at 7 p.m. today at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

The committee has met weekly since the beginning of May to hear presentations from county department heads.

The ordinance regulates growth by limiting the number of new houses according to the capacity of roads and schools.

It has been successful in holding down growth. The county has granted fewer than 2,000 building permits annually for homes since it took effect.

"I think the ordinance has done a good job, maybe too good of a job," said Jim Schulte, vice president of Security Development Corp. "The ordinance is holding down housing production, although there is a tremendous demand for new housing."

Others argue that the law has failed to prevent crowding in elementary schools, particularly in the northeastern county.

School needed

By 2002, three of the six elementary schools there will be closed to new students, and another school is projected to be closed to new students in 2005.

Courtney Watson, a committee member and a mother of three children at Ilchester Elementary School, says a seventh elementary school should be built to accommodate the more than 600 new houses in the northeastern section that have received approval.

The county "allowed too many allocations [of new housing units] in this one area," Watson says. "The northeast is just one example of how this could happen."

For the most part, members of the committee from opposing sides on development issues realize that they have the same goal -- to revise the ordinance.

"I see [Rouse Co. senior vice president] Al Scavo agreeing with [slow-growth advocate] John Taylor," said John Snyder, vice chairman of the board of directors for the Long Reach Community Association. "It's an intelligent group and a pretty agreeable group."

Wants good product

Robey had hoped to receive a set of recommendations before summer.

It now appears that Robey will have to wait until July 12, when the committee will put the finishing touches to its report.

Committee members say that scheduling conflicts and the intricate wording of the ordinance forced them to delay the report.

"Given the complexity of the issue, it's understandable that we wouldn't come close to that goal," said Cole Schnorf, senior vice president of development for the Manekin Corp. "But we hopefully will have it done in early July."

The delay won't faze Robey, an aide said.

"He wanted it as soon as possible, but what he wants most is a good product," Sang Oh said. "If it's delayed by two weeks, that seems to be a reasonable delay."

Taylor says that, to meet the July 12 deadline, the group has been told to be prepared to work into the morning hours at the next four meetings.

"There's a faction on the committee that says, `[The July deadline] is our charge, and we will do whatever it takes to meet that,' " said Taylor, past president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth. "I'm in the group that says, `This is so important that we need to take the time to make sure that this is right.' "

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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