Baltimore County councilman wants building ban in Honeygo until school projects are set

Balto. Co. councilman: No new homes until schools, parks built in Honeygo

A Baltimore County councilman is proposing a moratorium on new housing in part of Perry Hall until the county pays for a number of projects, including building an elementary school and designating land for a new high school.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said the Honeygo area of Perry Hall is growing faster than the region's roads, schools and services. He said legislation is a way to nudge the county into funding needed projects.

"Those projects are things for which there's universal support. I just think they need to get done," Marks said.

Marks is facing a challenge in winning enough support to get the bill to pass, and the measure has come under criticism from home builders and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration.

The measure was initially scheduled for a vote Monday, but Marks said he'll take more time to negotiate details of the bill. He plans to withdraw it Monday, then immediately re-introduce an identical bill, which would likely be scheduled for a vote in May. That maneuver buys him more time to work on the details.

"It just gives us more time … I'd rather get this right than rush the legislation through," Marks said.

Marks said the bill will technically be an update of the county's Honeygo plan, a 1990s blueprint for growth in the community that's north of White Marsh.

Under the initial proposal, new projects could not go forward in Eastern Honeygo -- between Cross Road and Philadelphia Road -- until a 700-seat elementary school opens. School system officials currently are deciding where to put the new school, which could open for the 2017-2018 school year.

In Western Honeygo -- between Cross Road and Belair Road -- projects could not be built until the county sets aside land for a middle school and a high school, until the county finishes widening Cross Road and until the proposed Angel Park is built. Community groups have raised $800,000 for the park near the Perry Hall Library and $600,000 more is needed.

Marks said the middle school and high school are not included on the school system's long-range plans, but he believes they'll be needed sooner rather than later.

"It's not in the current plan and what I'm trying to do is push them to put it in … I wanted to light a fire right now," he said.

Marks' efforts have drawn significant attention, with dozens of people packing into a small room to lobby on the bill during a Baltimore County Council work session in Towson last week. An online petition promoting the bill quickly drew more than 500 supporters.

Representatives from Kamenetz's administration said the bill would force the county to spend money on buying land for schools that may not be needed.

"We believe it creates an unwarranted moratorium," said Jeff Mayhew with the county's Department of Planning. He said that while some schools in Honeygo are overcrowded, there are enough seats to go around overall in the Northeastern part of the county for the foreseeable future.

It would make more sense, Mayhew said, to redistrict students to alleviate overcrowding in Northeastern schools.

Fred Homan, Kamenetz's chief administrative officer, said if money is spent on securing land for Northeastern schools, other projects may suffer, such as upgrading other schools or adding air conditioning to old schools.

"The longer-term issue will steal money from a shorter-term problem," he said.

Through a spokeswoman, Kamenetz declined to comment on the bill, but said he's been working with school officials on overcrowding issues and will have an announcement about school construction when he unveils his budget on April 14.

Developers and home builders aren't fans of Marks' bill, either, because they don't want to be shut out of building in a popular area.

"It forces the county to spend money that's not in the budget, and it effectively creates a building moratorium," said Michael Harrison, vice president of government affairs for the Maryland Building Industry Association. "We're concerned about the precedent it would set."

Beyond Honeygo, Harrison is worried other council members would write similar bills to slow or halt development in other parts of the county. They could create "artificial hurdles that are impossible to meet to shut down development," he said.

Harrison said developers and builders have no control over how the county spends money and could be stuck in limbo while waiting for the county to act. "What he wants is beyond our control," Harrison said.

Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she thinks the bill should be expanded to cover the whole county.

"We've been playing catch-up forever … We can't keep leaving the infrastructure behind," she told council members.

Perry Hall Improvement Association President Dennis Robinson thinks the bill is a good way to make sure that infrastructure keeps up with development. A Perry Hall resident for 10 years, Robinson has seen the Honeygo area grow with young families. Though he's glad a new elementary school is in the works, it's not coming fast enough.

"Without a shovel in the ground, it's only benefiting kids that aren't even born yet and that's an issue," he said in an interview.

Robinson said his group is not anti-development.

"Growth is inevitable, but whatever growth is going needs to be responsible and sustainable," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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