Officials in Harford delay vote on homebuilding

Size of crowd at hearing prompts council decision

April 07, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of residents packed a public hearing on a Harford County Council proposal to limit homebuilding in crowded school districts, prompting a delay in voting on the matter for at least a week.

People were lined up from the rear of the chambers to the lobby as the session began, waiting to testify on the bill that would stop the preliminary plan approval process for housing developments in a district where enrollment is projected to exceed classroom capacity by 5 percent.

The current development cutoff is 15 percent.

County Executive James M. Harkins opposes the bill, which critics say could imperil legislation before the General Assembly to allow the county to impose an impact fee of up to $10,000 on each new home built in Harford.

More than a dozen speakers addressed the council during the hourlong hearing, primarily parents and homebuilding industry representatives.

Many centered their concerns on the news last week that Harkins did not include funding in his 2005 budget for the proposed Patterson Mill Middle-High School, a project considered key to relieving crowding in Bel Air and Fallston schools.

DeLane Lewis, a lawyer from Baldwin whose children attend Fallston schools, called the project's removal from the budget "blackmail at its worst," with Harkins "protecting future political contributions over future school funding."

"I would ask the county executive and other members of this government to stop playing games with our children," Lewis said.

Building industry representatives countered that jobs created by the industry would be threatened by the legislation.

"Attacking the homebuilding industry and trying to put it on hold when the homebuilding industry is not at fault is grossly unfair," said Frank Hertsch, president of Morris & Ritchie Associates, an Abingdon engineering company.

He said the industry is being "held hostage" in a public policy debate over class size between parents, schools and county lawmakers.

Faced with a crowd of nearly 300, Council President Robert S. Wagner cut off testimony at 8 p.m. and called for a continuance until next Tuesday's council meeting.

The Harkins administration maintains it cannot move forward with plans to fund Patterson Mill unless the General Assembly grants permission this session for the county to impose an impact fee on new homes.

Schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said last night that while the state has recently added more funds for building schools, Harford projects that are not on the books cannot receive aid.

She said that Nancy S. Grasmick, state schools superintendent, called Friday to ask where the Patterson Mill project stands.

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