County Council OKs change in school law

Panel tightens rule on new homes near crowded elementaries

March 07, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council unanimously approved last night changes that tighten a law limiting new home development around crowded elementary schools.

But the council put off until August the issue of whether to include middle schools in the law.

In a separate, partisan 3-2 vote, the council also defeated a Republican-sponsored resolution opposing Gov. Parris N. Glendening's bill to pay construction workers prevailing wages on school construction projects for which the state provides at least half the funding.

"This [school crowding bill] is a victory. I truly believe the reason I was elected in 1998 was to have an impact on this legislation," said Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican.

Other members had less clear opinions.

"I have been somewhat frustrated," said Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who was a council aide when the original bill become law seven years ago. "I'm not sure it really has the power to do what citizens believe it actually does."

Guzzone said that's partly why he proposed more study of the proposed amendment including middle schools, to see whether it would result in less-crowded schools.

Council members approved three changes to the adequate public facilities law. But they decided to ask a 17-member committee to conduct a three-month study before deciding whether to include middle schools. The law applies only to elementary schools.

The citizens' committee, which has convened twice in the past year, will meet again to see whether there is a way to protect middle schools from crowding that is expected to begin in a few years. The committee previously decided not to recommend including middle schools under the law and suggested that the matter be re-examined if crowding occurs.

The county has plans to build a middle school next to Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School. The middle school is scheduled to open in 2003, and Ellicott Mills Middle near Ellicott City is being rebuilt.

Republicans Allan H. Kittleman, who represents the western county, and Merdon want to include middle schools now. County Executive James N. Robey has said he would veto such a bill. Robey has said that because district boundaries are different for middle schools and cover a larger area than for elementary schools, covering both schools under the same law would be unworkable.

The changes enacted last night include:

Lowering the threshold that triggers a ban on new developments from 120 percent of elementary school capacity to 115 percent.

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 congestion test applied to intersections near planned subdivisions from one mile to 1.5 miles.

The prevailing wage resolution that carries no force, but it has provoked several arguments among council members.

Republicans say the change would increase the cost of school construction.

Democrats say the increases would be minimal. Glendening proposed the change to fulfill a 1998 campaign pledge to unions.

"I'm very concerned about how our governor has decided to pay back some debts," Kittleman said.

Pub Date: 3/07/00

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