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Builders fight Baltimore Co. moratorium


It is a time-honored tactic used by the powerless -- marshaling support to speak out against a proposal before a county council.

But the protesters planning to make their case before the Baltimore County Council this week are not from some outraged community group battling the government. They are county homebuilders -- seen by many as the ultimate insiders, with an access to elected officials eased by years of generous campaign donations.

The source of their ire is a school-related county building moratorium.

The homebuilders see a government double-cross in plans to extend the moratorium, which affects areas near overcrowded elementary schools, said John Clark, president of the county chapter of the Home Builders' Association of Maryland.

And with a council majority of four members sponsoring the extension bill, the builders feel they're being left on the outside.

Mr. Clark, charging that builders are scapegoats for a council bowing to public pressure, said he was told by the Ruppersberger administration that the 5-year-old moratorium would expire this month. The builders say the moratorium is no longer needed, because 14 of 18 schools with potential overcrowding have no developments planned nearby.

But Michael H. Davis, spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, says there was no double-cross. He said the bill extending the moratorium was introduced by council members -- not the administration, which is sympathetic to the builders' view.

Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who introduced the bill along with three co-sponsors, said he never told homebuilders that the moratorium would expire this year. He planned to meet with the group tomorrow.

Mr. Clark faxed a message to his membership this week, urging them to "demonstrate to the council that the building industry will not stand still when lawmakers surrender to whomever shouts the loudest."

He described the council bill as a "knee-jerk reaction to pressure from a few community group leaders."

The builders can point to two council members who agree with their arguments: Towson Republican Douglas B. Riley and Dundalk Democrat Louis L. DePazzo.

Mr. Riley said the moratorium is a "bad message to the business community." Mr. DePazzo said it "doesn't make sense" for the county to encourage business and development growth and then retard it.

But both men acknowledged that the bill probably will pass.

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