Explosive growth question

Howard: Debate on dull subject of growth control turns to heated talk of busing and redistricting.

June 16, 2000

TAX REVENUE, public education and the expectations of homeowners are coming into conflict on a committee assigned to study Howard County's eight-year-old Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

The committee appears evenly divided over whether to include an adequacy test for middle schools. That test would call for development to be curtailed if schools are crowded. Several other Maryland jurisdictions make new development subject to such a test, but Howard does not.

County Executive James N. Robey has opposed such a test -- based on advice from his director of planning, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., a member of the study panel. Both have been concerned that the test will be vulnerable to legal challenge if it does not conform to law.

Both are wary of legal pitfalls -- and of shutting down the flow of revenue from new development.

Mr. Rutter wants a middle school test that is devised and implemented by the special committee in a way that conforms with current law.

He's right. Howard should do all it can to ride the current wave of prosperity, but it should be able to find a legal middle school test as well. There is no good excuse for allowing children to suffer in crowded school buildings as a result of new development.

Even if you think the adequate facilities ordinance has been working well -- and many do not -- it is difficult to argue against planning for every contingency at every level: elementary, middle and high school.

An ounce of prevention ...

At the recent public facilities committee meeting, some suggested busing was a way to deal with the problem of crowding in one school, under-utilization in another. Sounded like a recipe for strife.

A two-thirds vote in the committee is needed to amend the law, so the council almost certainly will get another opportunity to solve the problem.

The committee's work will be an essential tool.

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