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Howard school board resists bill designed to inhibit overdevelopment, school crowding

In Howard County, if a developer wants to build a new residential project, they are required to complete a test to weigh its impact on the population of nearby schools. If the project fails the test, the developer must wait four years, at which time it is retested and then “deemed to have passed the school capacity test,” the law states.

Councilwoman Liz Walsh filed legislation earlier this month to amend the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance school capacity requirements to extend the wait time to seven years. The APFO is a set of regulations that weighs residential construction’s impact on school population and public roads.

Walsh, a Democrat whose district includes historic Ellicott City, said during a public hearing April 22 that the bill is meant to alleviate school overcrowding.

While this proposal may come as a relief to local advocates who have long complained new developments contribute to school overcrowding, the Board of Education expressed concern the move will have an adverse effect on funding.

The legislation would exacerbate the loss of student enrollment and “decrease revenues used for school construction, but also taxes that fund operational budgets,” said school board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis, who spoke on behalf of the Board of Education on April 22.

Ellis cited a study conducted by the county government last year, suggesting an additional three-year extension disallowing projects would decrease enrollment by 2,500 over 10 years. If the bill is passed, it would add 500 to that number, she said.

Stu Kohn, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, spoke in favor of the bill in his testimony, saying it was a way “to ensure that overdevelopment does not override our children's education because of poor strategic planning.”

“The longer the school system has to prepare to increased enrollment because of overdevelopment, the less likely they are to need further portable capacity,” he said.

The County Council will host a work session on the bill Monday in the George Howard Building at 4:30 p.m. Testimony from the public will not be taken.

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