Subdivision overhaul is proposed Action would support committee's stance favoring growth; 'That's unbelievable'; School board, county still at odds over waiver rules


In the first overhaul of its 25-year-old subdivision ordinance, Anne Arundel County officials will try to legalize some of the pro-growth recommendations of a committee that studied the granting of school waivers.

One of the most explosive ideas the committee outlined in June was to deny permission to build new houses in areas where elementary schools are at 115 percent of capacity and upper schools are at 120 percent of capacity.

"That's unbelievable," said school board member Thomas Twombly, referring to plans to overhaul the ordinance. He has attacked the county government for allowing development before roads and schools are built for them.

The rule of thumb has been that the county would not give developers a waiver if local schools were at 110 percent of capacity.

The county and school system have been negotiating about waivers and related matters for several months, but are not close to agreement.

"There are things on which we just don't see eye to eye," said Robert C. Leib, the school system's director of business services and head of its negotiating team.

County Executive John G. Gary seems determined to get his way.

"We are asking the school system to go along with waiver changes -- and if they don't go along with them, we're going to adopt them anyway," he said.

"From a personal point of view, I don't know why you'd want to go over 100 percent anyway," said school board President Joseph Foster. His preference, he said, is, "If a school is at 100 percent of capacity, they could not grant a waiver, period."

School waivers allow a developer to build where schools are crowded in exchange for payments the county uses to build new schools.

"We can't do long-range planning and meanwhile have the county granting waivers for major subdivisions. It throws everything out of whack," Mr. Foster said.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Study Waivers of Adequacy of School Facilities Requirement would remedy that with more frequent redistricting.

The committee, appointed by the County Council, found that waivers added less than 670 students to a school population of 67,093.

Key issues

Steven Cover, director of planning and code enforcement, wants to overhaul how the county approves subdivisions so key issues are dealt with first. As it now stands, traffic and school adequacy concerns are last on the list, though they are often crucial to communities and developers.

"The make-or-break decisions should be made up front," said Harry C. Blumenthal, one of the county's top land-use lawyers. "Now, the person seeking to subdivide could be $20,000 to $100,000 into this thing before you realize there is this make-or-break issue."

Mr. Cover wants to move proposals through the county faster and relax some of the standards so that every proposal won't require a waiver.

"You amend and amend and amend, and over time you have processes that don't work so well," he said, noting that the approval process is so jumbled, certain aspects are approved several times by the same people.

Because of that, minor subdivisions of three lots or fewer average six months to a year in the bureaucratic pipeline. Subdivisions of four lots or more average 18 months to three years.

'Cutting the process'

Mr. Cover wants to add a separate category for small developers -- four to 10 lots -- and streamline the approval process.

"We're essentially cutting the process in half," he said.

Conservation activist Jane Sinclair, who was on the waiver committee and monitors development for the Severn River Association, said community interest wanes when it takes years for a proposed subdivision to wind its way through the bureaucracy.

"[The development process] needs to be improved from the side of those of us in the public who want to participate, and from the side of the developer," she said. "And from the environmental side, we need a code that is more sensitive, that is developing with the land instead of against it. With more flexible standards, I think it will be easier to" respect environmental concerns.

County officials will hold a technical seminar Dec. 15 at Anne Arundel Community College to explain what changes they have in mind.

Mr. Cover said the school adequacy issue may not be resolved by then. The administration wants the County Council to adopt the overhaul by May.

Need to simplify

"I concur with Mr. Cover. We need to simplify things -- even though, as a consultant, that may mean less work for me," said George Tribett, a partner of a Hanover engineering company.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad