Several Charles County commissioners say they are considering further moves to slow residential growth, which remains strong even though a recent moratorium cut deeply into plans to build town houses.
Commissioners in interviews said they had not yet formulated specific measures. But whether Republican or Democrat, they expressed concern that rapid housing expansion could fuel heavy demands for schools, policing and other services.
"I think growth in this county is a problem and has been for some time," said Commissioner W. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata).
From January through May of this year, the county issued 439 building permits for single-family homes -- an increase of 14 percent over the number of such permits issued in the first five months of last year.
Over the same period this year the county issued 65 permits to build town houses, compared with 160 issued through May in 1998. A six-month moratorium on town house building permits expired in March, after commissioners imposed new rules designed to make such dwellings more expensive.
If single-family homes continue to be built at the same monthly pace for the remainder of 1999, the county would see about 1,050 new dwellings this year.
It would mark the fourth consecutive year that more than 1,000 new homes had been built in the county, which last reached such levels in the 1980s.
Under a formula used by the county, the 1,050 homes would be expected to add about 570 new pupils to the 22,000-student public school system.
"Growth is too fast in the county," Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) said in an interview. "This is going to be hard to sustain."
Levy said he is concerned about whether the schools could absorb some 600 new students each year -- nearly enough to fill one elementary school.
Levy also said growth threatens water quality of the Mattawoman Creek, a key nursery for bass and other fish that underpin a booming fishing industry.
Much of the county's housing growth takes place in the Mattawoman watershed. Construction typically causes an increase in pollutants that flow from land into waterways.
"If we're going to protect our fishery resource, we're going to have to make some changes there," Levy said.
Some members of the building industry said growth was proceeding at an acceptable pace.
"There hasn't been this groundswell of growth that the media has tried to portray," said Robert Heier, Charles County liaison for the Suburban Maryland Building Industry Association.
Heier said the public school system should have built more schools to handle new students, and should have more aggressively redrawn attendance boundaries to take advantage of empty seats outside the fast-growing Waldorf area.
New county regulations require builders who want to construct town houses to buy development rights from farmers. In return the farmers would forgo the opportunity to subdivide their land for housing.
Commissioner Mayer said he was in favor of strengthening the program.
So far this year, no builders have applied for new permits to construct town houses.