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Homebuilding curb awaiting new extension Baltimore Co. Council likely to add 2 1/2 years to moratorium tonight; Lingering controversy; Law may not cure school crowding, but it may gain time


Unable to agree on an alternative, the Baltimore County Council is getting ready to extend a controversial homebuilding moratorium for 2 1/2 years.

The move, expected tonight, would end a months-long struggle over a law designed to limit crowding at elementary schools by prohibiting new home construction nearby.

But it also raises the possibility that the battle will begin again as the new deadline approaches in July 1999.

County officials -- including the councilmen -- concede that the oft-extended 1990 law doesn't address the long-term problem of school crowding, especially since the school population bulge is expected to shift to high schools in a few years.

Builders and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger say that the moratorium is useless and that home construction doesn't cause most crowding. Community activists disagree and demand protection from the pressures of development.

Councilmen, caught in the middle, have struggled -- and failed -- to craft a broader alternative that would regulate development around all county schools.

So they have extended -- twice this year -- the law, which prohibits home building around elementary schools more than 20 percent over capacity.

It is due to expire Feb. 1.

Now, instead of trying another short extension -- and again risking the embarrassment of failing to find a better remedy -- council members want to extend the moratorium for 2 1/2 years.

The idea, says Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat, is to leave the nearly 7-year-old "temporary" moratorium in place while the county tries to build its way out of the crowding problem.

The $89.6 million school bond issue approved by voters last month -- plus up to $25 million more that the county hopes to get from Gov. Parris N. Glendening by spring -- should bankroll enough schools and additions so that no homebuilder's plans are endangered, officials say.

Nine schools are on the moratorium list this year, but several are in older neighborhoods where no homes are being built, such as Dundalk, Deep Creek and Stoneleigh.

Others, including Glyndon Elementary, should come off the list because of school construction in the works.

Still, the debate over school crowding continues.

Developers argue that crowding is the result of demographic changes -- young families replacing older ones. Construction, they say, causes very little of the problem.

Community groups don't buy that. They want a broad new law regulating home construction around all county schools.

"There's 50 different opinions," about what a law covering all schools should say, says Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

The council's solution has drawn similar responses from almost everyone involved in the debate.

"It's palatable, though not ideal," said Stuart Kaplow, a lawyer representing the county Chamber of Commerce.

"It's an extremely weak bill, but it's better than nothing," said Richard W. McQuaid, a north county community leader who has pushed for a comprehensive new law.

Thomas M. Ballentine, lobbyist for the county chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, agreed.

But Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, criticized the extension as too long.

"They are bypassing the issue," he said.

"It won't come up again until after the next election."

And county PTA Council President Linda Olszewski said the council's decision is "shocking. I'm disappointed to think the County Council chose to ignore 54,000 PTA members and allow the weak school moratorium" to be extended.

Pub Date: 12/16/96

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