Balto. Co. Council extends homebuilding ban by year


The 5-year-old ban on building new homes near Baltimore County's most crowded elementary schools was extended for another year yesterday on a 5-2 vote by the County Council.

But council members on both sides of the issue endorsed the idea of a quick, new study to find a long-term solution for the problem of crowded classrooms.

Support for the measure by Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who did not reveal how he would vote until the meeting convened, proved crucial in achieving the 5-2 margin necessary for the bill to take effect as an emergency measure. It will become law as soon as County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III signs it, rather than in 45 days. The old moratorium expired Friday.

In agreeing to an extension of the moratorium, Mr. Kamenetz said, "We need to have some answers in place before the expiration of this bill."

But Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican who voted against the extension, noted that similar expressions accompanied earlier "temporary" building bans.

"We're passing a politically expedient bill," he said, adding that a solution favored by the previous council -- modular classrooms -- should have been used more widely to relieve school overcrowding.

The five new council members elected last year were not part of those discussions, and are confronting the problem for the first time. The council has had little continuity through the past two elections. Five members were replaced by the voters in 1990, and five of those elected that year did not return for a second term.

Mr. Riley said using relatively cheap modular classroom additions is the answer to the crowding problem. They can be added quickly to existing schools and removed for use elsewhere when enrollments fluctuate.

But warned that if enrollment continue to climb by 3,500 pupils a year as predicted, and if county revenues drop because of federal and state budget cuts, Baltimore County "may have to bite the bullet," and increase class sizes.

County school officials and parents vigorously have opposed that in the past.

In the meantime, Mr. Riley said, the one-year extension is a "pretend fix," which is hurting the county by hurting business. Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, cast the other "no" vote.

Most observers agree that new home construction bears little responsibility for school crowding. Of 19 county elementary schools expected to be at least 20 percent over capacity by September, only three have new homes planned near them.

Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina, whose Perry Hall-White Marsh district has seen thousands of new homes built and widespread school overcrowding in the past decade, defended the need for an extension of the ban.

"We really don't have a plan in place," Mr. Gardina said of school overcrowding. "At least give us the time to get a framework in place."

In other action:

* The council unanimously passed a bill regulating pawn shops. The bill freezes the number of shops in the county at the current 12, and requires a special zoning exception and public hearing before a new shop can replace any that go out of business.

The bill, sponsored by Mr. Kamenetz, replaces another temporary ban preventing the establishment of new pawn shops. Community groups along Liberty Road have been complaining that new pawnshops with large garish signs are hurting their efforts to revitalize the corridor.

* The council confirmed new fire Chief Allen A. Thomason, who was sworn into office by Circuit Court Clerk Suzanne Mensh.

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