Speakers urge delay in action on Howard growth measures


Speakers at a public hearing dominated by business and developers last night urged the Howard County Council to delay action on legislative proposals that would limit new construction in areas where schools and roads are overburdened.

Many of the speakers asked the council to wait until after the Nov. 6 election before voting on the package of bills and resolutions that make up the adequate public facilities ordinance that County Executive Elizabeth Bobo unveiled in July.

A number of speakers complained that government officials did not give them enough time to review technical data that details restrictions on development and the changes builders must make to gain approval for their projects. Documents containing key changes were released yesterday.

"To rush this through . . . would result in the adoption of an inadequate public facilities ordinance," said Bill Miller of the local chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

Miller suggested a number of amendments to the ordinance, which is designed to ensure that growth occurs in areas that can accommodate it, or that new schools and roads are built in areas where growth would strain existing facilities.

Under the ordinance, developers seeking to build new residential or business projects would have to donate school sites if their developments pushed the student population of the existing schools beyond capacity, or they would have to build roads if their projects caused traffic congestion.

Miller said the county should enact an annual growth policy that would require the administration to pay for improvements to the infrastructure. He said the government also should use more lenient standards when requiring developers to build roads or donate school sites.

He and other speakers also wanted projects that already had gained preliminary approval to be exempt from the ordinance.

John Troutman, of the Troutman Co., said he was concerned about how the ordinance would affect the business community, which already is suffering from a sluggish economy that has reduced the work force at his company from 30 employees to 10.

Troutman predicted that the county would fail to achieve its goals of creating 2,500 housing units and 2,700 new jobs annually.

"You're going to see a massive shortfall in your revenues," Troutman said. "We need to develop an adequate capital improvement program" that would require builders to pay a "fair share" for new developments.

Against the tide of opposition, Evelyn Belschner, of the Ellicott City-based Patapsco Heights-Church Road Association, urged the council to speed passage of the legislation.

"Growth supports us, but too-rapid growth without the infrastructure will destroy us," Belschner said.

Guy Hager, president of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, said the legislation could help preserve a high quality of life in Howard and would "set a benchmark that other jurisdictions will shoot for."

Earlier yesterday, two coalitions that normally oppose each other held a joint news conference to complain that county residents and businesses did not have enough time to evaluate the adequate public facilities ordinance. The Howard County Economic Forum and the Coalition of Community Associations both asked the administration to postpone the legislation.

Uri Avin, director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said the administration supports deferring action on the ordinance until another hearing is held next month, but cautioned that a long delay could become a stalling tactic by builders.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad