Howard Council urged to tighten crowding laws

Committee draws plan to stop building in areas with crowded schools

September 27, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Robey administration has submitted a bill to the Howard County Council to strengthen the county's law regulating home construction based on crowding in county schools and on roads.

The bill, scheduled for formal introduction Oct. 4, follows the recommendations of a 15-member committee that worked during the spring and summer to tighten the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The law is intended to ensure that new residential construction doesn't overwhelm public schools and roadways.

The proposal seeks to limit the number of homes built near crowded schools by making three changes:

Lowering the overcrowding threshold that triggers a building ban from 120 percent to 115 percent of elementary school capacity.

Limiting to 300 the number of new homes allowed in a school region that is operating at more than 100 percent capacity.

Extending the roads test applied to intersections near planned subdivisions from one mile to 1.5 miles.

Several County Council members, including Laurel-Savage Democrat Guy J. Guzzone, say they'd like to examine the possibility of lowering the crowding threshold even further, to 110 percent capacity. But that could increase the cost of school construction by requiring more new classrooms in the county, school officials said.

Another councilman, Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon, said he'd also like to include secondary schools under the law -- something the committee did not recommend.

"I'm concerned about capacity in middle and high schools," Merdon said, noting that the enrollment bulge is predicted to hit high schools next.

But David Berson, chairman of the review committee, said that "just doesn't work" because of the overlapping configurations of school districts. For example, he said, a crowded high school might prevent building around non-crowded middle or elementary schools that feed it.

Berson said he is pleased that County Executive James N. Robey is introducing a bill that reflects the committee's recommendations.

"We had a very diverse group," he said, ranging from developers to community activists. "The overriding characteristic of this group was to get a result that would work. I think it came out pretty well," he said.

Pub Date: 9/27/99

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