Council weighs housing limits

Crowded schools motive for attempt to curb developers

Property rights at issue

September 27, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Concerned about crowded schools and the potential for more homebuilding in communities already thick with housing, members of the Anne Arundel County Council have introduced two bills designed to check development.

One of the bills would make it more difficult for developers to build homes near schools where classrooms are already packed with students. The other would reduce the number of building lots that might be available to developers by requiring some residential property owners with small, adjacent lots to combine their properties.

The bills are opposed by developers and the homebuilding industry.

They say that the bill involving school capacities would amount to a moratorium on homebuilding in six popular suburban areas, including Old Mill and the Broadneck peninsula. They say the other bill would interfere with the basic rights of property owners, some of whom have paid taxes on multiple lots for decades and may want to sell the lots upon retirement.

"We see it as a denial of people's right to utilize the property they pay taxes on," said Susan Davies, a legislative analyst and lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

The bill on combined lots will be the subject of a work session Oct. 9.

In the Bay Ridge area, which was subdivided decades ago for summer homes, residents are concerned that if developers buy up small lots and build on them, schools and roads would be overburdened.

The lots targeted in the bill do not meet the county code for minimum size, but are exempt from the law because they were subdivided before current zoning law went into effect.

"I like the idea behind the bill," said L. Noel Patterson Jr., a resident of Bay Ridge. "These older communities have lots that are currently very close together. And if they were ever to be sold or developed, they would [under the proposed legislation] have to comply with modern zoning standards. Otherwise, development would congest and overburden these communities."

But some on the council have reservations about the bill, which was co-sponsored by Democratic members Barbara D. Samorajczyk of Annapolis, Daniel E. Klosterman of Millersville and Shirley Murphy of Pasadena.

"I have some concerns about what the bill might do to property values," said council member Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican.

Vitale said she also worries that the bill may have the unintended effect of directing developers to communities such as Manhattan Beach and Cape St. Claire.

The bill only affects groupings of four or more lots, said Vitale, whose district includes both communities.

County planning and zoning officials also have questions. They offered a long list of critical points at the County Council meeting last week.

Denis Canavan, the county's planning and zoning officer, said the bill should be amended, adding, "I feel that there's a need for a work session at the very least."

Samorajczyk said yesterday that the bill was drafted to streamline current law and rid it of loopholes for properties that are exempt from current zoning law.

The proposal is a "restatement of the current law," she said.

Samorajczyk is also a co-sponsor of the bill limiting growth near crowded schools, which critics say would unfairly limit home building for two years, or the life of the proposed law.

Klosterman, Murphy and Vitale are also co-sponsors of that legislation.

"The intention is not to stop growth," said Klosterman. "The intention is to match growth with our school infrastructure."

Six of the county's 12 feeder areas, which include a high school and several middle and elementary schools that feed into it, are over capacity, said county officials.

The bill would strengthen current law regarding school capacity and home building and make it more difficult for developers to win approval for projects from the Board of Appeals, which has overturned decisions to block new subdivisions near crowded schools.

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