Testimony continues in Howard County on APFO, mulching bills

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Residents came out in full force for Monday’s continuation public hearing on the hot-button adequate public facilities and mulching bills.

Monday’s hearing, held in a packed room, was a spillover from the July 17 public hearing on the bills, which was capped due to the large number of people signed up to testify.

The night started with testimony on bill CB60, which could allow mulching practices on agricultural preservation easement land as an accessory to a tree farm. The bill aims to allow farmers to mulch or compost excess organic waste as part of their practices and to establish a conditional use zoning category for compost and natural wood waste recycling facilities that receive Maryland Department of Environment permits.

The council heard some of the most vocal support so far in favor of the bill, mainly from the Howard County farming community, including leaders from the Howard County Farm Bureau and the Howard Soil Conservation District. This came in stark contrast to the July hearing, which heard almost near unanimous opposition to the bill.

Emily Moore, a third-generation farmer in Howard County, said the bill is necessary to support farming as a viable industry in the county.

“If we have the ability to process the waste that we produce and turn it into something useful, it seems both counterintuitive to me and a little irresponsible to ship it off somewhere else and buy another product,” Moore said. “Why not use what we have and work together as a community to come up with something that’s reasonable for everyone but keeps the integrity of the agricultural industry?”

Other farmers, including Dayton resident Leslie Bauer, testified in an attempt to dispel what she said were misconceptions about the farming community being “rich and greedy,” which she said was false.

After more than three hours of testimony on the mulching bill, the night turned to the adequate public facilities ordinance, known as APFO. The controversial legislation aims to help the county mitigate possible issues caused by development projects, including how to ensure public schools and infrastructure can handle an increased population.

A group of people attending the hearing were clad in yellow shirts, dressed in unity against what they see as legislation that favors developers.

Prior to the hearing, the citizen organization Mobilize HoCo led dozens in a rally outside the George Howard building against APFO and the detriment they say it poses to the county’s school populations, problems they say will continue to balloon if development is not more strictly regulated. Children held signs with phrases including “Reform APFO, stop massive redistricting” and “Don’t reassign us in 3 years,” and chanted “Stronger APFO, stronger HoCo.”

Leader Wendy Williams-Abrams, who is also the PTA president at Manor Woods Elementary school, said she was protesting APFO because she believes it allows developers to get away with not paying their share of the county’s infrastructure cost, instead forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

While APFO and the upcoming county school redistricting are not part of the same legislation, Williams-Abrams said chronic redistricting is a result of the unmitigated development that has been allowed to take place in the county, therefore adding too many students to school buildings.

“Redistricting is a symptom and the cancer is weak APFO,” she said.

Testimony during the hearing began with recommendations on the APFO amendments from the county’s board of education, presented by board chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt. The recommendations included adding high schools to the schools capacity test for determining if an area’s schools can handle more students due to increased development; capping school capacity limits at 100 percent; and requiring all potential development to pass the school capacity test.

Some testifying were harshly opposed to the amendments, saying they would allow development to continue to flood the area without proper regulations. Three students testified, sharing their concerns regarding APFO, including Mayfield Woods Middle School seventh-grader Caley Ramey, who said she feels like she and other students are overcrowded in their buildings and that schools shouldn’t rely on trailer classrooms as a solution to the problem.

Some spoke out against the bills on other grounds, including potential negative environmental impacts of development. Columbia resident Tim Lattimer testified that he believed the county’s approach to development was poor as it lacked any requirement of a holistic process to assess the environmental impacts of projects.

“It’s time for a new way of thinking about how we manage risks. Climate change is fundamentally a local issue,” Lattimer said. “These types of requirements are not rocket science, and they’re not anything new.”

The night ended on an unfinished note once again, with council Chairman Jon Weinstein announcing that the rest of those signed up to testify may do so at the Sept. 18 public hearing. The council will dig further into the details of the two bills and discuss possible amendments during its work session on Sept. 25.

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