Councilman proposes lower building cap

Head of Mount Airy council against plan

similar ordinance passed this month


A Mount Airy town councilman plans to introduce at next month's meeting an alternate ordinance that would set a cap on the number of residential building permits issued each year in town.

Mayor James S. Holt vetoed an ordinance, approved Sept. 12 by the Town Council on a 3-2 vote, that would have limited residential building permits to 130 a year and 40 per development.

The alternate measure prepared by the mayor and Councilman Peter Ramsey Helt would set lower limits, of 24 permits per development and 100 permits a year.

"I intend to formally introduce the proposal that the mayor and I put forth at the last council meeting," Helt said. "I imagine there's going to be a lot of discussion."

At the Sept. 12 meeting, Council President John P. Medve said Helt and Holt's proposal should not be introduced, as the council had just passed its measure.

He minimized the differences in the numbers: "130 versus 100, 40 versus 24," and said, "I'd hate to see us lose what I think is an historic opportunity in growth control."

In explaining his veto days after the ordinance was approved by the council, Holt said, "I believe 130 is too high."

Residential growth had been controlled in recent years by a temporary cap on new housing developments, while the town of more than 8,000 implemented an adequate public facilities ordinance.

Once that ordinance was in effect, the temporary cap expired and the annual allocation of building permits returned to 40 per development.

A major problem for the town's attempts at growth management apparently has been resolved with the passage by the council and Holt's signing of a consent decree with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The town had approved some development based upon its expected water supply - before its allowance was cut back unexpectedly by the state.

The agreement with MDE includes the town's first use of surface water, from the South Branch of the Patapsco River and a possible reservoir to be constructed in the future. The town had relied upon groundwater from its wells.

Councilwoman Wendi Peters, who took on responsibility for the water and sewer department in July 2004, outlined the problem.

In negotiations dating from 2000, she said, Mount Airy asked for an increase in its existing wells. Instead, she said, MDE in July 2003 reduced the town's current allowance.

"The town had no reason to think the appropriation for wells 1 through 7 would be changed," Peters said. "The reduction of our existing appropriations and the reduction of our projected appropriations created a significant deficit for the town," because subdivision construction had been approved from 2000 to 2003 based upon the expected water supply.

The town disputed the July 2003 allowance, and meetings throughout the year led to the consent agreement, Peters said.

It includes an increase of 131,000 gallons per day, which should cover the housing already approved, plus some for downtown development, she said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.