In the latest push to slow development in Baltimore's suburbs, the Harford County Council voted last night in favor of a resolution to impose a six-month moratorium on the county's acceptance of any new residential preliminary subdivision plans.
The action came just hours after Council President Robert S. Wagner hand- delivered a copy of the resolution to County Executive James M. Harkins.
Harkins has not decided if he will sign the resolution and implement the moratorium immediately, said Merrie Street, his spokeswoman. "He wants to see what the council does first," she said.
Wagner said the resolution "reflects the wishes of the County Council. I hope he will abide by it."
He called the resolution "a stop-gap measure" designed to give a county task force studying school crowding time to complete its work and come up with recommendations.
He said the moratorium would not apply to commercial development.
Before voting, council members amended the resolution to have it impact only residential subdivisions in excess of five units. It excludes age-restricted and senior housing.
Council members Wagner, Dion F. Guthrie, Robert G. Cassilly, Richard C. Slutzsky and Cecelia M. Stepp voted for the resolution.
Veronica L. Chenowith and Lance C. Miller voted against it. "I don't believe it will accomplish anything," Miller said.
Last night's action came amid widespread discontent with crowded schools, traffic jams and other growth pressures.
Harford became the second county in the metropolitan area to take action to control growth this month. Carroll County enacted a moratorium June 6, halting for a year all new subdivision plans covered by its adequate public facilities laws.
Other counties have taken smaller steps to control growth. In Howard, more than 1,000 proposed homes are being held up by crowded schools and other building limits. In Anne Arundel, planners are reviewing development rules, which do not always ensure that developers pay to fix snarled intersections affected by new homes.
In Harford, one of the fastest growing counties in the metropolitan area, housing development has been blamed for the serious crowding of public schools and for road congestion that threatens public safety.
Angry parents have been filling the council chamber in recent weeks demanding that something be done to ease school crowding. They have vowed not to go away until something is done to address their concerns.
Housing development and its impact on schools has been a hot subject of debate in Harford since early March. At that time, Guthrie, the lone Democrat on the council, proposed a bill that would change the county's adequate public facilities laws so that they would halt housing development in any school district where student enrollment in any school exceeded 100 percent of the school's designed capacity.
Council members could have introduced legislation to impose a moratorium, but such a bill would have required a 30-day period before it could be enacted, according to Wagner.
Harford's current adequate public facilities laws are designed to halt residential development in school districts when a school's capacity tops 120 percent. Proponents of change, including Guthrie, argue that the law is not working.
Guthrie pointed out recently that while Fallston Middle School is operating at nearly 130 percent of capacity, 516 homes are in the pipeline waiting to be built in the Fallston school district.
Overall, 6,066 residential units have preliminary approval in the county, according to the Department of Planning and Zoning.
Wagner said plans for these home would not be interrupted even if Harkins goes along with the resolution.
The week after proposing a change in the adequate public facilities laws, Guthrie heeded a request by the Harkins administration to hold off on the legislation for at least six months.
There was concern over the economic impact on the county of a change in the law.
In exchange for Guthrie's agreement to hold up on the introduction of his bill, the council voted in March to form a task force to review and update the adequate public facilities laws and to report back to the council by Sept. 30.
The task force is made up of members of the administration, school board, County Council, the homebuilders association and Friends of Harford County Inc., a grass-roots group that monitors growth and other quality-of-life issues.
Homebuilders say a moratorium on housing construction would have a detrimental impact on the county's economy and on many businesses, and a wide variety of construction subcontractors including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, roofers and companies that put siding on houses and pave driveways.
School board member Robert B. Thomas Jr. of Joppatowne called on the council this month to support what he called an "education summit." He wants state, county, local and school officials to meet to discuss the status and the future of public education in the county.
He recently suggested that the county close the door to new pupils at Fallston Middle School and others that are crowded.
He is not the only school board member who has been outspoken on school crowding.
"We have capacity disaster on our hands," Mark M. Wolkow, who represents the Abingdon and Edgewood area, told fellow school board members last month. "We've seen it coming. We've been shifting, realigning and balancing to try to put it off. But it's at our doorsteps, and we must do something about it."
Angry parents have been giving council members an earful in recent weeks.
This month, Lisa Murdock told the council that she saw no real desire among them to address growth issues and the adequate public facilities ordinance.
"That scares me to death," she said.
David Bongiovanni of Fallston suggested that the council eliminate programs provided by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Use that money instead for education, he said.