What to know ahead of Monday's Howard County Council meeting

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

County Executive Allan Kittleman is set to introduce long-awaited changes to the county's adequate public facilities ordinance at Monday's County Council legislative session. The ordinance strives to ensure public infrastructure keeps up with continued development.

The measure is just one of many on a packed agenda for Monday, one of the last sessions before the council's break in August. Also on the agenda is an expected vote to override Kittleman's recent veto against establishing a small donor public finance system for candidates for county executive or County Council. The council also plans to vote on whether to sell the Long Reach Village Center to Orchard Development Corp., which has agreed to buy the center from the county for $2.5 million in order to revitalize it.

APFO changes

Proposed changes to the adequate public facilities ordinance, commonly known as APFO, are the culmination of months of work by a 23-member task force made up of both developers and residents. The task force — the first formal committee to review the ordinance since 2000 — met 22 times over 11 months to put together recommendations on ways the county can mitigate issues caused by rapid development, including how to ensure public schools can manage the increased number of students in classrooms.

Now, Kittleman is ready to officially present those proposed changes to the council.

One of the key changes in the legislation deals with the test housing projects must pass to determine if schools in that area can handle an increase in students. Under the new regulations, development projects that have been in a waiting period to take the schools test cannot be stalled more than five years once they do take the test before they can begin work, even if they have not passed.

Waiting periods for receiving housing unit allocations, which determine how many houses can be built in the county each year, are created when more projects are proposed than there is space allotted at that time in the area, said Jeff Bronow, head of the Department of Planning and Zoning's research division.

Bronow said that the change would create "predictability" for both developers and county school and planning officials, so that they know when future residential projects will take place and can ensure public infrastructures are ready for the growth in population. For schools in affected areas, Bronow said this can include plans to add onto or build new schools, or redistrict if needed.

However, Bronow said he doesn't believe the waiting period change will make a significant difference in the county, as the pace of development has slowed. In the last two years, Bronow said no projects have been in a housing unit allocation waiting period that would be affected by the five-year cap on the schools test.

The legislation also gives exemptions to affordable housing projects from housing unit allocations. Bronow said the task force made this recommendation because it understood the need for more affordable housing in the county, and that the exemption would make it easier for such units to be built.

Another change would remove a tool that allows the county to dip into a shared pool for housing unit allocations in two areas designated for "established communities" and "growth and revitalization." To offset the changes, the new policy would also decrease allocations in areas slated for targeted growth and increase allocations for established communities by 200 units each.

The proposals have been in the process of review and change since 2015, when Kittleman first created the task force.

"[Residents] recognize that APFO is important to manage growth to prevent crowding of schools and provide adequate infrastructure," Bronow said.

Industrial mulching

The agenda for Monday's meeting also includes the introduction of a bill to amend the county's regulations on composting facilities and natural wood waste recycling facilities. Under the new regulations, wood waste facilities as accessory to tree farms would be allowed on properties deemed for agricultural preservation, as long as the tree farm use makes up less than two acres.

The bill has already stirred controversy in rural areas of the county, where residents are concerned that the bill creates a loophole for large-scale industrial mulching on agricultural land, which, Dayton resident Jim Nickel said, will hurt their quality of life through health hazards such as groundwater contamination and plummeting property values. Nickel said he also worries that any regulations introduced by this bill wouldn't be properly enforced by the county's department of planning and zoning.

"If DPZ is going to turn a blind eye, then [regulations don't] make any difference," Nickel said.

Nickel and other residents shared their concerns at a community meeting Thursday night at Dayton Oaks Elementary School. The meeting, led by Dayton Rural Preservation Society president John Tegeris, had hundreds of attendees and served as a rallying call for residents to take action to show their opposition to the bill as it is currently written. One major way residents plan to show this opposition is by testifying at the council's public hearing on July 17.

"We're rising up and we're saying no," Tegeris said at the meeting. "So this is important, and it's working and we gotta keep pushing until we get to the finish line."

This story has been updated.

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