Committee endorses refinements to growth ordinance

Recommendations on law go to Robey next month

June 20, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Yawns and caffeinated beverages were plentiful at a late-night meeting of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee last week, but the group finally plowed through the schools issue of a 7-year-old law that links development to capacity in schools.

Ending their meeting 10 minutes shy of midnight Thursday, 16 members of the committee compiled several key recommendations that drew generally favorable reactions. Member William Waff did not attend because he was at a Board of Appeals hearing.

"This law has always been a compromise," said Rosemary Mortimer, a member of the committee that drafted the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance in 1992. "We didn't give up too much. We made it stronger."

The committee will recommend changes to the ordinance to County Executive James N. Robey on July 12.

The committee endorsed reducing the cap for elementary school enrollments and limiting the number of new housing units in an overcrowded school region.

The ordinance currently authorizes county planners to delay proposed residential development around elementary schools with enrollments 20 percent over capacity. By 2003, five schools would be closed to new pupils.

The committee recommended lowering the cutoff figure to 15 percent over capacity. If enacted, five more elementary schools would be closed to new pupils in 2003.

Courtney Watson, a mother of three at Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City, noted that 22 schools exceeded the 20 percent over-capacity mark between 1992 and 1998.

"The original APFO allowed that to happen," she said. "The assumption is that this will give the school board enough time to catch" an enrollment increase.

A measure to lower the cap to 10 percent over capacity failed because members believed that it would shut down too much of the county to development.

Members also voted to ask Robey to allow no more than 300 new homes in an elementary school district where enrollment of elementary schools exceeds 100 percent of capacity.

The proposal, which received the support of several developers on the committee, would prevent a situation similar to the crowded conditions at Pointers Run Elementary School, which is closed to new students in 2002 and 2003 because of rapid growth around it.

"We wanted to make sure that within a region, no one particular school ends up with all of the allocations," said John Taylor, past president of the Howard Countians for Responsible Growth.

The committee also agreed to eliminate a proposal to add middle schools to the ordinance because such a provision would undermine the relationship between growth forecasts and the ability to monitor a school's capacity.

Education officials have projected that a surge of pupils will reach middle schools by 2003.

Because there is no feeder system in place between elementary and middle schools, a developer might receive approval to build a residential subdivision in an elementary school district that has space, but later be denied because a middle school in the same region might be over capacity.

But the committee suggested that it would be willing to reconvene in 2002 to review the idea of a middle schools test.

Committee members withdrew a suggestion to require education officials to release biannual 10-year estimates of which elementary schools could be over capacity and should be opened or closed to new pupils.

The reasoning was that the projections wouldn't change much, except possibly to open up an area for development quicker than residents and planning officials had expected.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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