In the coming months, local lawmakers will consider a long-anticipated update to the county's adequate public facilities ordinance, which attempts to ensure public facilities match the pace of development.
But the proposal will not include a two-part recommendation to further restrict development in overcapacity areas while allowing developers to pay increased fees to continue development in those areas.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman supports the recommendation, suggested in April 2016 by a 22-member task force as a compromise between residents and developers. The administration didn't realize it needed state legislation for the fee increases until December, at which point Howard's delegation said they preferred filing the legislation for 2018, according to Andy Barth, the county's press secretary.
"This is a two-part motion that alleviates overcrowding and also raises additional money for school construction. The task force passed it as a combined effort, which means I will proceed with it as a combined effort," Kittleman wrote in a statement. "We will move forward with both parts of the recommendation once we secure the state enabling legislation to increase the school surcharge, which we plan to pursue during the 2018 legislative session."
The task force suggested delaying proposed residential development when area elementary and middle schools are 10 percent overcapacity, rather than the current measure of 15 percent. But, in a compromise, developers could build in areas where schools are up to 20 percent above capacity by paying double or triple the school surcharge rate of around $1.46 per square foot of development.
Kittleman is not bound by the committee's recommendations. If the General Assembly increases the school surcharge rate, fees would fund capital improvements to schools. State lawmakers specifically allowed Howard County to levy additional school excise taxes in 2004.
The county's ordinance can stall, but not halt, projects. Currently, developers must wait up to four years if area schools are over-capacity before proceeding with development.
According to a 2016 study by the school system, 15 of the county's 76 schools are overcapacity, with most concentrated in the northern and southeastern parts of the county.
The adequate public facilities ordinance, which does not test for overcrowding at high schools, has been criticized by some residents at public meetings who say it is not the answer to curb overcrowding or stop projects.
The county last decreased the threshold at which schools are considered over-capacity in 2002, when it decreased it from 20 percent to 15 percent and adopted a test for middle schools.
About 42 percent of expected student enrollment increases between 2016 and 2026 will come from new construction, while 58 percent of the increases come from resales and turnover of existing housing.
Howard County is the only jurisdiction in the state to annually allocate the number of allowed residential units in the county's five areas — a major tool to manage growth.
The Howard County Council will consider other changes to the ordinance when Kittleman files the legislation this year.
This story has been updated.