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Development to be frozen at 4 schools


A bill that would temporarily halt home building around several crowded elementary schools in western Howard County was unanimously approved Monday night by the County Council.

In the same session, higher rates for taxicabs were approved.

The council voted to close the Bushy Park and Lisbon school districts to new development in 2003, in addition to shutting off development around Pointers Run and Atholton elementary schools that year.

County enrollment projections put Pointers Run and Atholton over 115 percent of their designed capacity by 2003. Council members, who questioned the reliability of those projections, voted to add the other two schools to the list.

Western county Republican Councilman Allan H. Kittleman said he will examine enrollment projections and capacities at several other schools, including Manor Woods Elementary, to make sure they are accurate.

"I think the law is going to work the way it should," he said about the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Passed eight years ago, it cuts off development once a school's enrollment passes 115 percent of capacity.

Despite Kittleman's optimism, Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon said he was voting for development restrictions based on a school enrollment chart "that I have absolutely no confidence in." Merdon said his doubts were based on enrollment projections that are often flawed.

Each year, the County Council votes to adopt what is called an "open-closed chart" that compares individual elementary school capacities to projected enrollments. If a school is projected to be over 115 percent of capacity, it is supposed to be "closed" to development.

But since it takes three years for land to be approved for development, the ban is delayed for three years. Thus the chart submitted to the council this year was for 2003, when only Pointers Run and Atholton Elementary schools were projected to be over the 115 percent threshold in the law.

But council members said figures for Bushy Park, Lisbon, Waverly and possibly Manor Woods were also inaccurate. Additions planned for the first two schools won't be ready until 2004, but the chart assumes they will be operating in August 2003. Other enrollments are simply out of date, according to some council members and parents.

Kittleman praised the council's vote in March reducing the enrollment threshold for limiting development from 120 percent of capacity to 115 percent.

He noted that on the chart adopted Monday night, areas around Manor Woods, Pointers Run, and Atholton elementary schools will be closed for development in 2004.

The vote for new taxi surcharges would add $2 for rides between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., and $2 for trips to other counties. Riders would pay $1 more for credit card transactions and $1 for having more than six grocery bags. Riders would also be responsible for tolls.

In January, the county slightly increased the metered mileage rate for taxi cab rides, providing drivers an extra 5 cents for the first mile and an extra 20 cents for each additional mile - the first increases since 1991.

The county rejected a request for a 50-cent-a-trip surcharge to compensate drivers for higher gasoline prices, although cab drivers in Baltimore, Washingtonand the counties of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery have been granted gasoline related fare increases.

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