St. Mary's Adopts Annual Home Growth Policy

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Aug. 21, 2008)—For the coming year developers will only be allowed to build up to 741 homes in St. Mary’s now that the Board of County Commissioners has adopted an annual growth policy for residential development.

Under the new policy the county’s growth rate has been set at 1.9 percent, down from the figure of 2.25 percent annual growth that a community-based task force on adequate public facilities recommended after two years of study and debate.

Of the allowable growth, the commissioners’ new policy puts a maximum of 30 percent in the rural preservation district (RPD) while the remaining 70 percent will be concentrated in the county’s other development districts.

The commissioners passed the annual growth policy unanimously at their regular meeting Tuesday.

“We’re going to look at [development] each year… as to how much St. Mary’s County with regards to residential development,” said Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills) “We never had that before. “We’re taking significant steps to manage growth in St. Mary’s County.”

The commissioners also added a new tool to their ability to manage growth—mitigation. Using this process a developer can donate a piece of land for a school, if needed, allowing their housing project to proceed where it otherwise may have been stalled because there were not adequate school seats to accommodate the children who would live in the new development.

Mitigation, Raley said, was something that had not been available to county government before.

But mitigation will have its limits, noted Raley, because the county will only make that option available when needed and only when the land is suitable for development.

“It’s got to be the right piece of property at the perfect time,” Raley said.

Despite the county's new steps to regulate development, housing construction is currently being self-regulated by a slowing real estate market.

Commissioner Lawrence D. Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) said that the 1.9 percent policy was, for the moment, a “moot point.”

“Growth isn’t the driving issue now… now the driving issue is the economy,” Jarboe told The County Times. “It [the 1.9 percent growth rate] will offset the houses on the market that are yet to be sold.”

County estimates are that there are between 900 and 1,000 homes without buyers in St. Mary’s.

The development of housing will also be phased in, according to the new growth policy. Developments of 100 lots will only be allowed to build out at a rate of 25 lots per 12-month period. Projects of 101 to 200 lots will be allowed to develop at 30 lots per year, according to the new policy, and those with 201 or more lots can build out at 40 lots per 12-month period.

According to county figures, the county has experienced an average of 2.55 percent growth in housing annually for the past 15 years. That ranged from just 1.56 percent of growth in 2001 to a high of 3.66 percent in 2004.

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