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Gray seeks to lift building permit limit in Howard Co.


Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, saying the local economy needs a shot in the arm, wants to eliminate two key provisions of an 18-month cap on residential growth that took effect September 1989.

He said yesterday that he will introduce emergency legislation next month to lift the limit of 3,000 new home-building permits over the 18 months and scrap the complex system for allocating those permits.

Mr. Gray, who received more than $15,000 from developers and large landholders during a campaign in which he was unopposed, said that under his bill permits would be issued on a "first come, first served" basis.

The current process restricts the number of permits issued quarterly in various areas of the county.

However, Mr. Gray said his bill would retain two other provisions of the cap -- one banning new subdivisions in the semirural western end of the county and another forbidding approval of rezoning petitions that would increase density.

The cap is set to expire March 15, although four of the five council members and County Executive Charles I. Ecker have pledged to extend it until they pass an adequate-facilities bill to limit growth where roads and schools are overburdened.

Mr. Gray, D-3rd, made his announcement at a meeting in which the council and the executive addressed the county Chamber of Commerce.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th and Mr. Ecker, both of whom also received strong support from developers during their campaigns, said they would support Mr. Gray's proposal.

Emergency legislation cannot pass without the votes of four of the five council members.

Beverly Wilhide, an aide to Mr. Ecker, said the executive backs Mr. Gray's bill because he believes that the permit-allocation process is not working and that the state of the economy will not allow builders to exceed the cap, in any case.

Mr. Gray said his bill is designed to "stimulate residential construction in the county, which is on the decline.

"I am hoping the action would enhance our revenue picture, and I don't think we will have runaway housing construction, because of theailing economy."

Mr. Ecker recently told the council that the current operating budget deficit could reach $20 million and that he might have to seek council approval to borrow money from the water and sewer fund to avoid ending the fiscal year with a deficit.

Since September 1989, Mr. Gray said, the county has issued 2,600 certificates to allow builders apply for home-building permits.

"So far, the licenses and permits department says there have been 160 building permits that were approved but have not been picked up," he said. "In effect, there are permits that are going begging, even though there are people standing in line ready to use them but can't because of the way the allocation process works."

If the bill is approved, it would take effect upon passage, which could occur in a special legislation session in January or at the next legislative session Feb. 4, Mr. Gray said.

John F. Liparini, president of the county chapter of Maryland Home Builder's Association, said he was glad to learn of Mr. Gray's proposal.

"The growth cap law's handling of building permits allocations and the cap itself was extremely disruptive of the building industry because it caused a great deal of uncertainty," he said. "The lifting of the cap and ending the allocation process will allow builders to get back into business and start to build again."

Mr. Liparini said he expected it will take several years for the housing economy to recover and he would be "surprised to see more than 2,500 units built next year."

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