Harford council passes bill to curtail development

April 15, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County would curtail preliminary approval of home building in more than half the county as a result of a bill passed late Tuesday night by the County Council.

After more than more two hours of public hearing and debate among themselves, the council members voted 5-2 in favor of changing the adequate public facilities laws. Under the bill, preliminary approval for new homes would be interrupted in any school district with a school that exceeds its enrollment capacity by more than 5 percent.

The bill would replace legislation passed by the council in October that limited residential development in school districts with a school exceeding 115 percent of capacity.

County Executive James M. Harkins has 21 days to sign or veto the law. It would become effective 60 days after he signs it. Based on Tuesday's vote, which came about 10:40 p.m., the council would be able to override a veto. Harkins has not indicated whether he will sign the bill.

In passing the bill, council members rejected the warning from a leading economist that the legislation would bring to a halt development in the county's designated area for growth after three years.

Anirban Basu, the author of the $8,500 study paid for by the Harkins administration, said that changing the adequate facilities laws could cost the county $13 million a year in lost revenue, beginning in 2007.

From 2008 to 2015, he said, the revenue loss would total nearly $95 million. The study showed that the negative economic effects would not begin until 2008 because 8,300 homes have preliminary approval and are waiting to be built.

Councilman Robert G. Cassilly, a Republican who represents Bel Air, said Basu's long-term predictions of revenue loss are based on an assumption that the council would not change the adequate facilities figure related to school capacity.

Cassilly said it is not a fair assumption considering that the council has changed the percentage that triggers a slowdown in home building twice over the past year.

Council President Robert S. Wagner said he voted to limit home building after the county delegation to the General Assembly rejected the council's request for a number of revenue-producing proposals to pay for school construction and school renovation.

The council had requested authority to impose an impact fee on new homes and an excise tax on the purchase of new and existing homes. It also wanted the power to increase the transfer tax on homes from 1 percent to 1.5 percent and the repeal of the $30,000 transfer tax exemption for owner-occupied residences.

The delegation rejected the bulk of the requests and limited the council to an impact fee of up to $10,000 on a new home.

Wagner said he did not believe economic impact of changing the adequate facilities figure would be as bad as predicted. "The only right thing to do is vote for 105 percent," he said.

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