Howard County Councilwoman Courtney Watson is pursuing a measure to amend neighborhood preservation laws in a continuing effort to assist nonprofit swim clubs.

Watson's proposal would permit pool owners to sell their development rights to builders, under an existing county zoning regulation intended to preserve established neighborhoods. Because the land could not be developed, the sale would help lower the community pools land values and provide them with additional funds.

The measure was scheduled on the county's planning board agenda Thursday night. The board must make recommendations before Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, can introduce legislation to the council, but she said she hopes to introduce a bill within the first half of 2012.

"The main thing we are trying to do is level the playing field," she said in an interview before the meeting. Watson has argued that the Columbia Association pools and others owned by private homeowners associations pay less in property taxes than older, community pools.

At a July council hearing, three of the five members voted against a bill that would have established a tax credit for a half-dozen nonprofit swim clubs in the county. The swim club owners argued that most of their pools faced mounting debt because of high property taxes, coupled with increased expenses. Many of the pools were built in the 1960s and need improvements.

Pool owners could sell their development rights to builders, permitting them to increase the number of housing units at a new development in a different location by 10 percent. The preservation law was adopted by the county to control density in older neighborhoods, where some lots were never developed.

Watson that her proposal would give the community pools some additional funds for capital improvements.

Under a state law enacted in 2006, local governments can give tax credits to private, nonprofit swim clubs. But when Watson and co-sponsor Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, attempted to get the bill passed, other council members said they felt the bill favored six community pools over the Columbia Association pools. Opponents argued that the homeowners associations are not tax exempt, but that the costs are passed on to the individual homeowner.

County Executive Ken Ulman had called for further study of the issue.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

Previous versions of this article incorrectly described the sale of development rights. Under Watson's bill, owners could sell development rights directly to developers. The sale of development rights would lower the pool properties assessed values. The Sun regrets the error.

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