AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC facilities law is not a ban on development, contrary to the wishes of some citizens in suburban counties that have one and contrary to the fears of the business community in Baltimore County, which does not.
Adequate public facilities laws do not stop growth. They help prevent growth from outstripping the supply of schools and other basic services. If a developer is not willing to help pay for sufficient services, he cannot build. Such laws encourage growth in areas where growth is intended and protect taxpayers from footing the entire bill for new infrastructure.
As Baltimore County debates whether to pursue such legislation, supporters and opponents need to keep these facts in mind. At this point, it appears that the former (school supporters, council members) believe an adequate facilities law would be "The Answer" to school overcrowding, while the latter (County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the business community) fear it will stop growth. Experience shows neither expectation is reasonable.
Adequate facilities laws are important tools for preventing school overcrowding, and Baltimore County should have one. But such a law cannot guarantee that schools will never become overcrowded. That is because new construction is not the only source of new pupils. Changes in birth rates and population shifts greatly influence enrollments; adequate facilities laws can do nothing about these.
As far as growth is concerned, an adequate facilities law is not a moratorium. The restrictiveness of such laws varies, but most include a waiver system whereby developers can build in areas without adequate facilities if they get permission from the government to pay a fee to be used toward classrooms, roads, etc.
Mr. Ruppersberger's concerns about discouraging growth are well-founded. His county has not been growing like its exurban neighbors, its population is aging, it needs to attract younger, working people who stimulate the economy and generate taxes. A surge of new homebuilding would help accomplish that. However, well-designed adequate facilities laws do not block that end. They simply say that builders cannot build without first making sure services are in place -- a matter of common sense.
Pub Date: 8/27/96