2 school-crowding bills for Honeygo are pulled

Sponsor says he and schools chief to offer new plan

June 20, 2006|By JOSH MITCHELL | JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTER

Two bills designed to relieve school crowding in the Honeygo area were withdrawn before a scheduled vote by the Baltimore County Council last night, with a councilman saying he and school officials hope to unveil an alternative plan next month.

Also last night, the council, as expected, unanimously approved a ban on liquefied natural gas facilities within five miles of homes. How the ban will affect the federal government's approval process for a facility planned for Sparrows Point was unclear.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina had proposed a $10,000 impact fee on new houses in the Honeygo area, with revenue going toward the construction of an elementary school. Another proposal by the councilman would have blocked plans for new homes near schools in the area that exceed their enrollment capacity by 15 percent.

Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat, said the bills were intended to relieve crowding at Chapel Hill Elementary in Perry Hall, where enrollment exceeds the school's state-rated capacity by 50 pupils. He said he decided to withdraw the proposals after he realized that he didn't have enough support among council members to get them passed.

Gardina said he and county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston intend to announce a new plan next month to address school crowding at Chapel Hill, but he declined to discuss specifics.

"We're completely confident that the strategy will be implemented, and that the strategy is one that will be effective," said Gardina, who has pushed for school redistricting to even out enrollment.

A spokesman for Hairston declined to comment.

At a council work session last week, a spokesman for the Home Builders Association of Maryland testified against Gardina's bills, saying they did not address other factors that contribute to school crowding, such as new requirements for all-day kindergarten and the "turnover" of older neighborhoods to younger families.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, balked at the idea of legislation that targeted specific areas.

"People countywide are looking for relief," and targeting one area "sends the wrong message to those other people," Bartenfelder said before last night's meeting,

Bartenfelder said he supports implementing Gardina's ideas on impact fees and building moratoriums countywide. The county has a law that in theory imposes a moratorium near severely crowded schools. But an exemption allows homes to be approved near schools that are over capacity if a nearby school is under capacity.

Bartenfelder said he will work to get support for removing the exemption and for countywide impact fees.

Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley is forming a task force on school crowding that will include officials from the council and school system. He said the panel could begin work this summer and come up with recommendations by winter. He said one measure that the task force will look at is impact fees, which are imposed in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

The ban on liquefied natural gas facilities is intended to at least delay plans by Virginia-based AES Corp. for a tanker terminal in Sparrows Point, said the bill's author, Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. Residents and elected leaders strongly oppose the project, noting danger to the public.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reviews and approves such projects. A spokeswoman for the commission said last week that a local ban on the facilities would not disqualify an application but would be considered in the approval process.

"This project has many uncertainties," said Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, and he pointed out the local government's continuing efforts at revitalization in that part of the county.

Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said that while he supports the ban, he questions its impact. "Our proposal, I think, does little other than to give the community some additional support."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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