Building permit requests pour in

Developers seek to secure rights after commission talks of new growth limits

May 21, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Fearing that the Carroll commissioners soon might impose stricter growth limits, developers have been bombarding the county's offices with requests for building permits to secure their rights under current law.

The permit rush followed a meeting last week at which county staffers told the commissioners that projected growth will far exceed the goal of 6,000 new houses in six years set by the county in 1997. Faced with the news, the board has discussed ways to change the 6,000-home limit from a goal to a rule but is not close to approving new policies.

"Still, you understand what the developers are thinking," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "This is how they always react to uncertainty."

On a typical day, the county's permit office receives about 25 requests for building permits. The day after the commissioners discussed growth limits last week, the office received about 125 requests, said manager Mike Maring.

The uproar among developers speaks to the increasingly complex future the commissioners face in their efforts to control growth, a future that will see development virtually halted in the Freedom area until 2009.

Developers seeking approval for subdivisions must go through several reviews. As part of the planning commission's role in a project, county officials ensure that new houses would not create undue strain on area water and sewer systems, schools and roads. Once a plan clears those hurdles and receives planning commission approval, the developer may record lots but may obtain building permits on 50 a year. A developer might gain approval for a 200-lot subdivision this year, but not be allowed to complete it until 2007.

Now developers with approved projects scheduled over the next several years are rushing to obtain building permits, given first-come, first-served, because they fear a change in laws might jeopardize building activity this year or next.

Commissioners said yesterday they don't want to interfere with projects that have been approved, but they want to tighten controls on countywide growth.

"We don't have all the numbers we need, and frankly, we're not sure what we're doing," Gouge said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the county must make a stab at holding development to 1,000 homes a year. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier called that limit an arbitrary market control and argued that the county should control growth by further limiting the number of houses that can go up in any subdivision a year.

The commissioners and county officials acknowledge that Carroll has not adequately monitored the pace of growth during the past several years. A staff member should have been maintaining a database and ensuring that subdivisions were not being approved at a rate greater than 1,000 new homes a year, said Ralph Green, director of permits, inspections and review. But that didn't happen.

Green said his department would begin building such a database, but that he thought it would be impossible to enforce any restriction retroactively.

The county has done a better job ensuring that new houses don't overwhelm schools or water capacity, Green said, but new subdivisions that would not strain infrastructure have been approved, regardless of the 6,000 ceiling on new homes.

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