Howard County Executive James N. Robey said he will veto any attempt to include middle schools in his bill strengthening the law that limits development around crowded elementary schools.
The County Council's two Republicans want to do just that, ignoring the decision of a Robey-appointed committee to reject the middle school option in favor of three smaller changes to the 1992 law.
The law blocks new homes around elementary schools at more than 20 percent over capacity. Robey's bill to amend the law is scheduled for introduction at a County Council meeting Jan. 3.
Those changes, recommended by the 17-member Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee, are:
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 traffic test applied to intersections near planned subdivisions from one mile to 1.5 miles.
Despite those changes, Councilmen Allan H. Kittleman, who represents the western part of the county, and Christopher J. Merdon, from Ellicott City, want to include middle schools in a law that has covered only elementary schools. They say they want to prevent crowding predicted for middle schools by 2003.
"It's more a preventive measure than a corrective measure," Merdon said.
"I don't want to wait three or four years from now to act," Kittleman said. "Chris and I just want to put it on the table and have it discussed."
They hope Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, will join them. "I like the idea. I need to understand why it won't work," Guzzone said.
Robey says he's so "dead set" against their idea that he would veto it.
"If this recommendation had come out of the committee, I would have supported it," the executive said, adding that he had no reason to overrule the panel, which represents several viewpoints and spent many hours reviewing and debating the law.
"If it were the right thing to do, I'm sure this task force would have made the recommendation to me. If it [middle school crowding] becomes a problem, we can reconvene the task force and re-examine it," he said. "It's just not necessary now."
The committee recommended taking another look at middle schools in 2002.
Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an East Columbia Democrat, backs Robey. "I go along with the committee," he said, noting that either an individual elementary school district or a whole region can be closed to development if schools become too crowded.
The northeast region, for example, one of six in Howard County, is closed to development for that reason.
Democrat Mary C. Lorsung, the council chairwoman, said she isn't inclined to change what the committee recommended. Robey needs two votes on the five-member council to sustain a veto.
David Berson, chairman of the public facilities committee, said the peak crowding is in elementary schools and that including middle schools in the law would create problems. "You could have an elementary school district that is open, feeding [pupils] into a middle school that is closed. There are overlaps," he said.
County planning Director Joseph W. Rutter said that middle school regions don't match elementary school regions, making it nearly impossible to "close" one while leaving another open to development. "The two just don't fit together."