Bill would cut development's red tape tie-up

Planners' advice to shift entrance led to problems

Meadows homes delayed since '01

Council OK would qualify project to move forward

March 11, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

For those who think new homes pop up as freely as spring daisies in Howard County, consider Triadelphia Meadows, a proposed 29-home luxury development sidetracked for 18 months by a simple, well-meant bureaucratic error made nearly two years ago.

The $500,000-plus homes are the subject of an emergency County Council bill introduced March 3 to straighten things out. If it passes, it will retroactively qualify the development to proceed.

Douglas C. Shipe, vice president for Maryland operations of Toll Brothers builders, said work could begin in two more years, when the company's 95-home Triadelphia Ridge project on Howard Road should be finished. A vote is expected in April.

"They make a very compelling case. The only reason they're being denied is because they tried to accommodate the county," said the bill's sponsor, Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican.

The beginning of the tale seemed simple enough.

When the plans for the Meadows were submitted to the county early in 2001, the main entrance was planned on Roxbury Road, just west of the intersection with Triadelphia Road in the Glenelg area of western Howard.

Trying to be helpful, county planner Kent Sheubrooks asked if the entrance could be moved a few yards to Triadelphia Road because Roxbury road is a designated scenic roadway. He also told the builder that the project is in the Bushy Park Elementary School district, which was not crowded at the time.

That is a key piece of information because Howard County housing developments must pass two crucial tests -- among many -- along the road to full approval. The county allows only so many new homes per year, so each project must first qualify for a portion of that annual allocation. If it passs that test, it can proceed only if the school district the land inhabits is not crowded beyond the limits of the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

It is county school officials -- not planners -- who decide which district a project is in.

Since the school district boundary dividing Bushy Park Elementary from Triadelphia Ridge Elementary runs through the 65 acres of the Meadows development, moving the main entrance to Triadelphia Ridge Road also changed the school district to the Triadelphia district. And that school was overcrowded under the law based on charts adopted by the County Council on Nov. 5, 2001.

A county letter dated Nov. 6 stopped planning for the Toll Bros. development in its tracks.

"The key thing is they told us we were in Bushy Park [district]," Toll Bros. attorney Richard Talkin said. "They gave us the wrong advice."

Talkin then tried to move the entrance back to Roxbury Road, but to redesign the plans, the project had to go back to the end of the housing allocation line. By the time the redesign was done, the allocations were all allotted for other projects. Attempts to appeal to the hearing examiner and the Board of Appeals got no immediate action, though a case is pending.

Acting Planning Director Marsha S. McLaughlin said Sheubrooks is "someone who was trying to be helpful," but the experience has taught the county something.

"We've learned our lesson about being helpful on the school front," she said. "We clearly shouldn't have spoken."

From now on, builders who want to know what school district their land is in should ask the school system's coordinator of geographic systems.

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