Faced with rapid development that is threatening to overwhelm some schools, roads and sewer systems, the Anne Arundel County Council yesterday unanimously adopted sweeping legislation designed to control growth - growth fueled largely by the county's new role as an outer suburb of Washington.
The new general development plan and an accompany ordinance prohibit development in areas where the county has not provided "adequate' public facilities, such as schools, fire stations and water lines.
By making the presence of such facilities a prerequisite for development, the county government has also given itself a far greater voice in deciding how much new development will occur, and where.
"We don't want an influx of people in great densities, and we make no bones about it," said County Executive Robert A. Pascal, who promoted the growth management concept in his 1974 campaign.
Pointing to the county's already crowded northern and western communities, the unsightly strip development along the county's main artery to Baltimore and the ever-present pressure to turn the county's extensive farmland into residential subdivisions, Pascal said, "We've got to have a plan and everyone has to know the rules. The vultures are in the trees."
The adequate facilities ordinance channels growth around existing or already-planned water and sewer networks in the northern, western and eastern part of the county - around Baltimore and Annapolis and along the Prince George's County border.
Under the new plan, a major section of the southern part of the county - making up about a third of the county's total area - would remain undeveloped.
The new law also requires developers to provide facilities for which they have not been responsible previously. For instance, if there are no improved roads linking a subdivision to a main artery - if the existing connectors are not "adequate" for anticipated new traffic, and if there are no nearby water tanks or fire protection, the developer must provide them.
In addition, if the school board determines that schools will not accomodate the projected need, a subdivision could be vetored by the county government, according to the ordinance.
"Before, we worried about schools later, even if it meant double sessions," said Florence Beck Kurdle, planning and oning officer.
Some citizens groups, particulary in older remote communities who have watched luxury developments creep in around them, complained that the new growth management program is not strict enough.
The county's main attractions as a suburb have been its low tax rate, its proximity to Baltimore and Washington and the hundreds of miles of Cheasapeake Bay shoreline along its eastern edge.
Annapolis, the county seat, is also the Maryland state capital, the site of the Naval academy and a center for pleasure boating for residents for both the Baltimore and Washington areas.
Since World Warr II, what was once a prosperous agricultural and marine community has become a center of subrbia, and with that change the county's population has quintupled. It now stands at 374,000.
Before 1970, nearly half the growth flowed southward from the Baltimore area, but in the past few years, nearly half the new residents have migrated from the Washington area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We were looking for a combination between a vacation home (on the water) and a primary residence," said Gary Capistrant, a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, who moved to a four-bedroom waterfront home in Severna Park last fall.
It was either that or live far out in Montgomery County to suit their needs and their price range of $65,000, the Capistrants decided. In both cases, the trip to downtown Washington is 45 minutes.
Bill Banks, a Virginia developer, bought a house in Annapolis after discovering he could commute to McLean in one hour, give or take 15 minutes - not much different from his previous trek from downtown Washington to McLean.
"If you like the water, and the kind of people who like to be around the water, it's a terrific place," Banks said.
Living in Anne Arundel has become so popular that housing is "definitely a sellers' market," said jack Steffey Sr., chairman of the board of the Charles A. Steffey developers. "Now homes in Anne Arundel are appreciating a value at 14 percent a year."
The dwindling supply of waterfront property brings as much as the market will bear, said John Busser, an Annapolis real estate agent. In one new community on the Severn River, he said, undeveloped lots are priced at $80,000 to $90,000.
However, the average Anne Arundel home and the county's tax rate combine for an attractive package, builders and developers note. The average single-family home in Anne Arundel cost $55,000, in contrast to $72,000 in Montgomery County and $56,000 in prince George's County.
The property tax rate, which as been dropping since Pascal took office, it $2.15, contrasted with its neighbors: $3.31 in Prince George's, $5.97 in Baltimore City, $2.99 in Baltimore County and $2.43 in Howard County. Montgomery County's tax rate is $2.64.
Builders like Steffey who have criticized the new growth management program for adding to the government "red tape" say it could also substantially reduce the tax base which has been growing so rapidly that the county officials have been able to lower the tax rate.
"If growth is stifled, people will face huge increases in their taxes," Steffey said.
But deputy planning office Jeffrey E. Frank said new immigrants are anticipated to be homeowners with "relatively high incomes" which county officials are aggressively courting and new businesses and industries. The newcomers' "relatively high tax contributions" are expected to pay for new public facilities needed to serve them, he said.