The Howard County Council voted unanimously last night to make developers pay an excise tax on all residential and commercial construction and to require builders to pass both a schools test and a roads test before starting their projects.
The so-called adequate facilities legislation will take effect in 60 days. Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, had sought to make the bill take effect immediately, but was outvoted, 4-1.
The five-bill, five-resolution legislative package has three main features:
* A roads test to determine if intersections can accommodate traffic generated by a proposed development;
* A schools test to determine if nearby schools will be overcrowded when new residents move into a proposed
* An excise tax imposed on all new residential and commercial construction. The excise tax money would be used to complete major highway projects anywhere in the county.
A developer who failed the roads test could proceed by either paying a fee or making improvements to the intersection. But if the schools test is failed, the developer must wait four years before proceeding.
Ms. Pendergrass sought to table a resolution that included a chart forecasting 7,724 new units in her district in the next 10 years but no new schools. When the motion failed, she voted against inclusion of the chart in the adequate facilities package.
In approving the legislation, council members said they were clearly voting for a compromise worked out over the past year by a 12-member Howard County commission of developers, civic leaders, school officials and county employees.
"We're delighted," said commission Chairman James H. Eacker when the final vote came at 9:23 p.m. "This is a giant step forward for the county. We'll be able to prepare and have greater predictability in planning for the county's growth.
This will work for the long-range benefit of the county."
The leaders of two community organizations -- formed to slow the county's growth rate -- strongly disagreed. Both said they plan to seek signatures on a petition designed to hold up the legislation until the November election. The petition, if successful, would put the legislation on the ballot and allow voters to decide the issue.
"We favor an adequate facilities ordinance, but this is completely inadequate," said John W. Taylor, president of Howard County Citizens for Responsible Growth. "The council sold out the citizens in favor of developers. The citizens have to take the county back. Developers have ruled it too long."
"This guarantees higher taxes," said David Stough, president of Citizens for Responsible Growth. "It guarantees that the General Plan maximum [of 2,500 new residential units a year] will be reached."