Any time new development is proposed in Howard County, opponents invariably look to challenge it based on the increased traffic it will bring or, in the case of housing construction, the pressure it would have on the school population.
Their argument is often based on the county's adequate public facilities ordinance, APFO for short, which was established in 1992 to make sure that roads, public sewer and schools in a particular area have enough capacity before a development can be approved. Critics of APFO have often questioned whether the law has the appropriate teeth to really stop development when plans could potentially overburden a community.
So it was appreciated when last month the two county executive candidates, Republican Alan Kittleman and Democrat Courtney Watson, both pledged to take a look at APFO should they be elected in November. Both Kitteman and Watson seem to be signalling to voters that APFO needs some tweaks, though neither canddate provided a lot of specifics. And we think they should.
Given constituents' nearly universal interest in the topic, we think APFO should be a topic that gets a lot of attention between now and the November elections. Not only do we want to know if the candidates think the law is being applied properly but, since the point of APFO is to look at the impact development has on county services, we'd also suggest that they consider applying other standards to APFO.
For example, nearby jurisdictions such as Carroll, Montgomery and Prince George's counties consider, in one fashion or another, the impact a growing population has on police, fire, emergency medical serives and, in the case of Montgomery, health clinics. At a time when government budgets are stretched, these public needs should be addressed in APFO. Perhaps public hearings in early 2015 would be a place to start.
Development can't and shouldn't stop in Howard. It is a strong engine that keeps the county economy chugging along. But development can't put undue strain on the county's resources. That's why we need a strong APFO.