Growth control bill urged

Adequate facilities measure sought for Baltimore County

`The job isn't being done'

Roads, schools must precede development, councilman says

June 19, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Deer Park Elementary School is so crowded that some children attend classes in trailers, of which there are seven. Many eat lunch at 11 a.m. Dismissal times are staggered to ensure that bus traffic flows smoothly.

Deer Park serves thriving Owings Mills, one of Baltimore County's two targeted growth areas. The community has attracted thousands of jobs and millions of dollars invested in new stores, shopping centers and office buildings.

Parents and community activists say measures to control rampant growth must be strengthened, not only in Owings Mills but in other county communities where schools are crowded and roads are congested.

"People think development's under control in Baltimore County, but the job isn't being done," said Lisa Cohen, who has three children at Deer Park.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents Owings Mills and the north county corridor, is proposing an ordinance that would require adequate schools, roads, sewer and water facilities before residential or commercial developments can be approved.

"What I'm basically saying is, we should plan ahead better," said McIntire.

McIntire began pushing his Growth Management Ordinance this week with County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, other councilmen, school officials, developers and business leaders.

He said he hopes to submit a final version to the council by November. The county's nine-year building moratorium, intended to prevent school crowding, is scheduled to expire June 30, but the council is expected to extend that deadline on Monday night to Dec. 1, 2000.

Many criticize the moratorium as ineffective.

McIntire's proposal -- expected to be much tougher than the existing moratorium -- is prompting debate between community groups and developers, who say it will stifle growth by adding unnecessary roadblocks to development.

"The bill is generally the wrong tool for what Baltimore County needs at this particular time, and it lends itself to numerous unintended consequences," said David S. Thaler, a civil engineer whose Woodlawn firm has worked closely with developers over the years.

Objections expressed

Thaler said the bill would make it more difficult to revitalize older neighborhoods, such as those in the Liberty Road corridor, by prohibiting new businesses near intersections with persistent traffic backups.

"We shouldn't be creating impediments to revitalizing Liberty Road. We should be offering incentives to people for doing it," Thaler said.

Community activists say the county's growth-control measures don't go far enough and point to crowded schools and congested roads as evidence.

"In concept, it sounds like this is a bill that is sorely needed," said Foster Nichols, vice president of the Glyndon Community Association.

County regulations require a community input meeting and a zoning hearing before approval of most major housing projects and commercial developments.

An adequate facilities ordinance prohibits issuing building permits along roads with substandard intersections.

A 1990 building moratorium blocks the construction of homes in neighborhoods served by schools where enrollments are more than 20 percent over capacity.

Many parents say the building moratorium has too many exemptions.

School officials acknowledge that seven schools were more than 20 percent over capacity during the school year that just ended, but the moratorium took effect at only one, Powhatan Elementary School off Liberty Road.

Neighborhoods exempt

Other neighborhoods -- including the Owings Mills and Randallstown communities served by Deer Park -- were exempt because there is space in nearby schools or new schools or additions were planned.

"The moratorium only kicks in in the very worst-case scenarios," Nichols said.

Activists also say communities feel shut out of the development process.

"It can be a very frustrating experience," said John Love, a stockbroker who has spent two years fighting plans to build an eight-home development on 32 acres off Falls Road.

Tax revenue

County officials say jobs and tax revenue generated by the growth in Owings Mills have helped fund county schools, parks and road improvements.

McIntire's measure, they say, would cripple efforts to attract new businesses, bring jobs to the county and redevelop older communities.

"What I hear from developers is that they think we're too strict, and there are certain people who think we're not strict enough," Ruppersberger said. "What my policy has been is to try to strike a balance."

The County Council has previously chosen not to tighten growth controls, in part because of Ruppersberger's opposition.

"I'm open-minded on this, but I think we have the controls in place," Ruppersberger said.

He said there are plans for a 750-pupil New Town Elementary School to take some of the pressure off Deer Park Elementary.

Last week, county officials approved a long-awaited classroom addition to Deer Park that won't be ready until at least February.

Road project completed

The county also just completed the $14 million Red Run Boulevard project and plans to spend $7.3 million to widen Owings Mills Boulevard and Lyons Mill Road over the next four years.

McIntire said a council extension on the moratorium would give him time to work with parents, community groups and developers to come up with a compromise while the moratorium remains in effect.

"There are parents out there who feel that as a county we are not foresighted enough, that we don't build schools or additions to schools with enough foresight," McIntire said. "We have to change that."

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