Review urged of changes in adequate facilities law

Proposed modifications trouble Carroll developers

April 09, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Responding to concerns raised by developers and landowners, Carroll County staff recommended yesterday that the county commissioners consider modifications to a proposal that revamps the county's adequate public facilities law.

Under the proposal, residential development would have to meet more stringent adequate-facilities standards and pass two adequacy tests before developers could proceed with subdivision plans. The law is designed to prevent residential growth from overwhelming schools, utilities and emergency services.

At a public hearing and in written comments to the commissioners, developers have raised concerns about the stricter standards, particularly for schools. They also have complained about the second test near the end of the development review process, and about the prospect of projects being on hold indefinitely because of inadequate facilities.

Yesterday, county planning director Steven C. Horn presented recommendations to address these concerns, while maintaining the county's goal to better manage residential growth.

The county has overhauled its adequate facilities law and other growth-related laws as part of its yearlong freeze on residential development. The freeze, which ends in June, halts subdivision plans subject to the adequate facilities law.

The current law provides for one test to determine whether facilities, such as roads, schools and emergency services, are adequate.

Horn recommended that the two tests for adequacy occur during the concept and preliminary planning stages, instead of during preliminary and final planning stages.

Developers have complained that placing the second test at the end of the review process could pose a financial burden if facilities deemed adequate during the first test are no longer suitable.

"We'll still achieve a level of comfort if we move the second test to an earlier [stage]," Horn said.

Martin W. Hackett, vice president of Westminster-based Carroll Land Services, told the commissioners that moving the second test to preliminary planning would cut developers' expenses.

"If you're going to shut someone down, do it sooner than later," Hackett said after the meeting.

Another recommendation from Horn involved making adjustments on proposed school capacity standards.

Last week, a county report found that Carroll would need $150 million to $190 million to build at least six schools to accommodate students, if the county adopts more stringent standards.

The county's current adequate facilities law calls for projected school enrollment of 120 percent or less of capacity as the threshold for new development.

Horn presented five maps showing areas where schools would either be adequate, approaching inadequacy or inadequate, based on different school capacity standards below 118 percent.

"The reason we're going through this exercise ... [is] it became clear we have substantial capital improvements to make," Horn said.

Another concern raised by the development community involves a provision that would allow development plans that don't meet adequate standards to be retested annually. Developers have compared this process to being stuck in an endless queue if there is no remedy to address the inadequate facility.

Horn recommended that county facilities be linked to the county's six-year capital improvement program. That would require the commissioners to begin planning and budgeting money to address inadequacies within six years.

Once the inadequate facility is included in the capital improvement program, the county Planning Commission could grant conditional approval. But unless the inadequacy is addressed, a subdivision project cannot proceed.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge expressed concerns that the county could be faced with a huge financial burden. The county is facing fiscal constraints because of uncertainties surrounding the state budget, she said.

"How can we say in six years, we'll put all this in the budget?" she asked.

County staff is expected to come before the commissioners with a draft of the latest adequate facilities proposal next week.

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