Revised law on growth urged

Residents' concerns are crowded schools, congested roads

Panel evaluating rule

June 15, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A small but impassioned group of Howard County residents and community leaders urged a committee last night to revise a 7-year-old law that tries to match development to the construction of roads and schools.

Fourteen speakers attended a public hearing organized by the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City and told how the law has affected the roads they drive on and the schools that their children attend.

Many residents said that although the ordinance has been successful in moderating some growth, it has failed to prevent congestion on the roads and crowding in the schools.

"I don't feel that the APFO as it's currently being interpreted is very meaningful or effective," said Richard D. Plenge of Ellicott City. "It overlooks very important intersections in traffic studies and only includes elementary schools."

The ordinance, which was adopted in 1992, regulates growth by limiting the number of new houses according to the capacity of schools and roads. Since it took effect, the county has granted fewer than 2,000 building permits annually for homes.

The ordinance is being evaluated by the 17-member committee, which is to recommend changes to County Executive James N. Robey by July 12.

Last night, crowding in schools dominated the discussion.

Sally Voris, an Elkridge activist whose son Alex attends Elkridge Elementary School, told the committee members that some people who attended a Christmas concert at the school had to stand outside because there wasn't enough room in the cafeteria.

"There's something wrong here," said Voris, who is a community correspondent for The Sun. "Because of that incident, we decided that we could not have any more public events at the elementary school."

Under APFO, elementary schools are allowed to have full capacity plus 20 percent. When capacity rises above that figure, APFO kicks in and no new permits for homes are issued for three years.

Tess Teeter of the Columbia Village of River Hill suggested that the committee lower the figure to 110 percent.

Barry Budish, who will become president of Waterloo Elementary School PTA, wondered whether the ordinance should include capacity tests for middle and high schools.

A few speakers discussed congested roads.

Plenge complained about watching the intersection of Route 103 and Worthington Way deteriorate to "E" level, or heavily congested.

Stuart Kohn of North Laurel recommended that the law prohibit construction along a failing road until traffic is improved, which the county or state must guarantee.

"The infrastructure must be fully acceptable to the state, the county and we who live in the county," Kohn said. "Or else we'll be in a hole that we won't be able to dig ourselves out of."

David Berson, chairman of the committee, said he was pleased to hear the conviction that was evident in some of the speakers' testimonies.

"All these things we heard tonight, we've touched on before," said Berson, a former Columbia Council member. "But it's obvious that these people feel very strongly about these issues, and it's good to listen to what they have to say."

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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