Fast-growing areas burdened by their booms

Carroll, Arundel, Howard, Harford stall development

Kent Island moratorium

Lack of class space, water among frequent concerns

May 26, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Some of Maryland's fast-growing suburbs are running into development roadblocks as people flock to them and the counties can't supply water, roads, homes - or schools - quickly enough.

Water shortages are forcing development delays in Carroll and Anne Arundel, and crowded classrooms are having the same effect in Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford. Meanwhile, thousands of proposed homes on Kent Island in Queen Anne's County have forced a six-month moratorium on new projects.

"When I drive around the Washington, D.C., suburbs, I realize that whole situation is our future if we just keep on doing what we're doing," said John Taylor, a longtime Howard County development foe.

Visiting his dying father's home in Northern Virginia recently left Taylor sitting "in traffic jam after traffic jam." He wants new highways - such as the hotly debated Intercounty Connector in Washington's suburbs - combined with a rigid building ban.

Others see the problems differently.

George O'Donnell, president of the Queen Anne's County commissioners, said the 3,000 new homes and 1.8 million square feet of new commercial space planned in his county was just too much all at once. Last week, the commissioners imposed a six-month moratorium on new projects to give the county time to plan.

But "we don't want to take away people's private property rights," he said. Kent Island might look like Glen Burnie from a beach-bound car on U.S. 50, but he said that's a false image.

"We're still very rural," O'Donnell said. "We have protected 12 acres for every acre we've developed. Only 6 percent of the county is in the growth area."

Most of northern Anne Arundel County, areas around C. Milton Wright High School near Bel Air and most of western Howard County have classrooms so crowded that new development plans are being delayed.

Baltimore County has several crowded schools - including Woodlawn, Owings Mills and Kenwood high schools and New Town Elementary - but none has triggered development delays.

Anne Arundel has a tough law that limits development when any school goes over its rated capacity. Other counties use a 115 percent or 120 percent crowding threshold before imposing delays, and some don't apply the law to high schools.

"Countywide, we have an excess of [school] seats," said Bob Walker, land use and environmental officer for Anne Arundel County, but hundreds of new homes are leading to crowded classrooms in the fast-growing northern and western parts of the county. That's halted more than 4,500 new homes, Walker said.

"The homebuilders are very concerned," he said. County Executive Janet S. Owens is working to unblock the logjam.

Water shortages have forced more delays on rural homes in Anne Arundel and have sparked a potential seven-year halt to new homes in Eldersburg and Sykesville - Carroll County's fastest-growing areas.

With 62 water hook-ups left through 2005, Carroll's commissioners imposed the moratorium on residential development this month until a solution is found.

"There's enough water there," said Dick Hull, president of Carroll Land Services, a surveying and civil engineering firm that works primarily for developers. He supports the plan endorsed by two of Carroll's three commissioners to build a water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake - an option strongly opposed by area residents and state officials, who have not issued a permit.

"Those of us in the [building] industry are not looking for rapid, uncontrolled growth. We want a sustainable, balanced industry that serves the needs of the people," Hull said.

County planning Director Jeanne S. Joiner said 737 homes in the development pipeline will be built despite the water problem. Carroll, which doesn't control growth inside incorporated areas such as Westminster and Mount Airy, is seeing about 1,200 new homes a year, she said.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge opposes the Piney Run plan and favors using new community wells instead. She said Carroll officials tracking water supplies have missed counting as many as 300 new homes a year because they weren't in large developments.

All of these problems, though vexing, can be managed, according to James N. Robey, Howard County executive and chairman of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

"That's why we're doing the 2030 study, to see where this region should be in 30 years in terms of transportation and growth," he said.

"I think we've tried to deal with it as best we know how in a way that's fair for communities, fair for the development industry, fair for the banking industry and fair for these children walking to school here," Robey said, speaking at Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia.

"The key word is regional. A lot of folks don't want to hear the regional word used. But we are all impacted by what occurs in this region, and that's why we have to work together."

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