St. Mary's Commissioners To Decide On County Growth Cap

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (July 24, 2008)—The Board of County Commissioners began discussion Tuesday about whether to cap the county’s annual growth rate to 2.25 percent as recommended by the community-based Adequate Public Facilities Task Force.

Members of the task force also asked the commissioners to consider allowing developers to donate land for school sites outside of the growth policy process other than waiting to find that there are not enough school seats to support a new housing development.

The process of what task force co-chairman Ford Dean called mitigation, actually allowed a developer to move ahead in the approval process in front of others if they had land to donate in an unfair manner.

“You can’t mitigate for inadequate school capacity,” Ford argued to commissioners. “If mitigation was allowed you could approve the project to move ahead despite the findings of inadequacy.

“Mitigation would be unfair.”

Bradley Clements, chief operating officer for the county public schools, said that projections showed that only five schools, three elementary and one middle and one high school, would be needed in the next 10 years.

Denis Canavan, director of the county’s Department of Land Use and Growth Management said that there was enough seating capacity to last the county for half that time given a certain number of housing units each year.

“There is adequate capacity for the next five years at 941 housing units built a year,” Canavan.

John Parlett, a Charlotte Hall-based developer and member of the task force, said that the county needed to find a way to find school sites now before the system broke down and left the county with too few school seats and a stop to development.

“It’ll never be any cheaper to buy those sites than today,” Parlett said.

The task force recommended ways to make incentives for developers to donate potential school sites including forgiving of school portions of impact fees, allowing for increased density of housing construction and relaxing open space requirements.

“There’s no incentive for developers to donate school sites unless they can go to the top of the development queue,” Canavan said.

Commissioners adjourned the meeting with out making any decisions on approving the policy except to say that they needed another work session to mull over details.

Commissioner President Jack Russell wanted to ensure that the proposed 2.25 percent growth rate was the right fit for the county’s projected growth.

“We’d like to come up with an adequate growth rate… so its’ not out of whack,” Russell told task force members, who argued that the growth rate could be changed annually to suit the county’s needs.

“We don’t want to get a backlog of houses on the market.”

Currently there are about 1,000 houses on the local market, according to task force information, that have yet to be sold in the slow down of the economy. Russell said that market forces will drive much of the growth policy but a policy was still required to help manage and guide county growth.

Russell said that the commissioners may decide to lower the cap closer to just two percent.

Parlett said that potential changes of the make up of Patuxent River Naval Air Station through base realignment and closure (BRAC) decisions made at the federal level could be managed with a flexible growth rate each year.

“They could cause us to ratchet it up for a couple of years or pull it back for a while,” Parlett said.

Dean said that the 2.25 percent cap was lower than the county’s average growth rate for the past 15 years, but market forces, which are currently in a down trend, could play a part in whether that cap is reached.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll develop at that rate,” Dean said.

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