Montgomery County officials unveiled legislative proposals yesterday designed to tighten control of a housing boom that is producing unprecedented traffic congestion around Gaithersburg, Germantown and Silver Spring.
County Council member David Scull and Planning Board Chairman Norman L. Christeller described the proposals at a meeting of a special task force formed in February by the council to deal with growth issues.
The proposals, which will go to the council for preliminary action next week, include three controversial measures suggested by Scull that would place a limit on building permits across the county and link building permits for new housing to the awarding of contracts for road construction. It would also revoke the endorsement of plans for planning board's approval of subdivisions granted more than four years ago and which have not yet been developed.
Scull told the task force that the county was caught in the biggest traffic crunch he could remember, "without the tools to deal with it."
His recommended solutions were immediately criticized by local builders and praised by citizen activists who have been protesting the lack of road and school construction in upper Montgomery County.
"By restricting development you're inflating land prices," said F. Hamer Campbell Jr., a lobbyist for the Suburban Maryland Building Industry Association. "You're going to penalize everybody sooner or later."
"The proposals are a good starting point," countered Michael L. Subin, chairman of the Committee for the Up County, a citizens group based in Gaithersburg and Germantown.
In the early 1970s, the county was forced by state officials to sharply limit growth because of the inadequate sewer system, and the measures proposed by Scull are the most drastic restrictions on development since then.
A near record level of 8,400 new houses were built in the county last year, and even more are expected this year, according to planners. The record, 8,468 units, was set in 1973. The low, 2,042 units, occurred in 1976 during the height of the sewer moratorium.
All of the proposals released yesterday are designed to tighten the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, a measure enacted in 1973 to ensure that roads, sewers and schools were in place to meet the demands of new development.
In the last several years, however, a combination of factors, including the repeated delay of several crucial state and county highway projects, has caused development to outstrip available road capacity in fast-growing areas of the county.
The council responded to the crisis in February by passing emergency legislation to prevent a rush to obtain building permits while it overhauled the 1973 facilities ordinance.
In a related action yesterday morning, Scull introduced another emergency bill extending the emergency limits until the end of the year. The limits were set to expire on Sept. 12.
At the task force meeting, planning board Chairman Christeller outlined a series of amendments to close loopholes in the 1973 planning law. The most controversial will strengthen the county's ability to control housing growth based on the ability of nearby schools to absorb the increased enrollments from the new development -- a stricter standard than is now applied.
Christeller said the Board of Education, the planning board and County Executive Charles Gilchrist still have several differences to resolve before a specific method is devised to link development to school enrollments.