A growing concern

Howard County: County Executive Robey is right to delay building curb

January 06, 2000

AT LEAST two members of the County Council want new restrictions on building in middle school districts once a certain level of crowding has been reached.

County Executive James N. Robey would stop development around elementary schools that are 15 percent over capacity. The current over-capacity ceiling is 20 percent. No argument with the council on that.

But Republicans Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon think the county should extend its controls on development to areas around middle schools as well. They argue the county may need the restrictions later, so it's a preventive step to approve them now.

Mr. Robey says no. He insists he will veto any bill that provides for that sort of expansion. Had a special commission recommended such a change, he says, he would have gone along. But the commission felt a decision on middle schools could be deferred until 2002. Mr. Robey concurred.

His judgment is probably the right one, though Mr. Merdon and Mr. Kittleman are not off-base in suggesting clear-eyed scanning of the development horizon. Otherwise, the county could face severe problems with no remedy available.

Mr. Robey and others observe that development can be closed in an entire region if that seems prudent. One change recommended by the 17-member Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee and adopted by the executive would limit to 300 the number of new homes allowed in a school region that is operating at more than 100 percent capacity.

Making limits specific to individual schools might be a more surgical and efficient course.

But the main question -- whether to impose more restrictions before they are absolutely necessary -- puts the Democratic executive and the GOP council members in an odd reversal of roles: Usually, Republicans are the anti-regulatory forces, Democrats the more permissive.

Both sides in this disagreement are partly right. But Mr. Robey's position appears to hold more merit. He and the council ought to save the vice of tight restrictions for moments when they can't be avoided.

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