FORUM

Council Member Questions Proposed Cap on Adequate Public Facilities Fee

Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Bowie) recently proposed legislation calling for the elimination of Prince George's County's so-called adequate public facilities fee, which charges developers $9,000 to $12,000 for each student their new homes generate based on projections from county school and planning officials. Under Hubbard's proposal, instead of the APF fee, developers who apply for building permits would have to pay a flat fee of $7,000 per unit. The fees would be used to pay for the construction of new schools or repair aging ones.

I am writing in response to various contentions which were raised at the delegation's very lively hearing . . . which took place on the evening of Dec. 8. . . . What I believe to be its central and most controversial feature is forbidding the Park and Planning Commission from imposing adequate public facility standards of any kind for schools when it reviews subdivision applications and site plans. If [Hubbard's] bill passes, the planning board will be required to rubber-stamp developer proposals for all residential development, even if they pose a threat to overcrowd already overcrowded schools.

This sorry scenario is what has transpired, with the limited exception of comprehensive design zone site plans, throughout the 1990s. It is the reason that many schools in many parts of the county, including yours and mine, are currently overcrowded and face the immediate prospect of getting worse. The fact that a surcharge for school construction will be increased under [Hubbard's bill] provides no immediate relief from the actual problem and is a distraction from what is really at issue.

In 1994, the delegation at that time first authorized--but did not require--the county to exact a modest surcharge for school construction on all residential building permit applications. However, it could only do so at the price of surrendering any right to impose an adequate public facilities (APF) test for schools. Such a test, if properly applied, would permit the planning board to deny a residential application which posed a threat to classroom overcrowding. At the time, such a test could be imposed at the site plan stage on comprehensive design zone applications. However, since most county land is in Euclidean zones, where site plans are not filed, such a test could be applied only at the subdivision approval stage. No county ordinance existed for such testing in those zones.

After two agonizing efforts, the delegation--to its credit--came to grips with the problem and amended the surcharge law to authorize both a surcharge and an APF test. As a result, developers would no longer be able to buy their way out of an important public regulation for the payment of what is, in essence, a nominal fee. [Hubbard's] bill, which links these two totally different matters, would turn the clock back, only worse, since under the original law, the county had the Hobson's choice of either a fee or APF testing, while [Hubbard's bill] simply outlaws APF testing for schools. The only people who benefit from this proposal are developers who could care less about schools or schoolchildren so long as they can get their projects underway.

Raising the surcharge fee from $2,500 to $7,000 provides meager relief for the problem of inadequate school capacity in certain areas. It costs between $12,000 and $15,000 per pupil to build a school. [Hubbard's bill] still leaves a gaping hole between the problem which new construction brings about and the cost to the public for that construction. Of greater importance is the unavoidable time lag between the authorization of funding and the completion of a school. Under optimum conditions, it takes between two and four years to build a school and bring it on line. . . .

We also have an underlying administrative problem. There is simply no one in the school system or the county government who has any track record for building schools or anything else. . . . Of the 13 new schools already authorized or funded, only one is actually under construction and only three others are at the construction stage. As for the rest, nothing is actually happening. Meanwhile, overcrowding continues and additional crowding, brought on by additional construction, makes a difficult problem worse. In the interim, students are in the cafeteria, the hallways or wherever. The unvarnished fact is that the kids can't wait, but developers can!

. . . The same predatory special interest groups at work in Annapolis to preclude APF testing at all were--and still are--at work in Upper Marlboro to prevent it from being properly implemented. Much additional work needs to be done before it can operate as well as it should. One small comfort is that, as time goes on, the original six years of exemption for APF testing is narrowing so most subdivisions approved after 1997 or before 1993 are now covered. That narrowing will continue. It has one salient virtue--the test for adequacy depends . . . upon schools actually funded.

If local implementation needs improvement--and it clearly does--then the campaign for improvement should be aimed at those laws and practices. . . . Like so many other proposed remedies for problems that threaten to overwhelm us, any answer must lie in more effective administration. This is admittedly difficult when there are, as Mrs. [Donna Hathaway] Beck pointed out at the delegation hearing, so few on the council who really believe in effective growth management. Also, it is imperative that both the executive branch and the planning board administer more effective utilization of present smart-growth management laws and practices, which in the past they have neglected.

Walter H. Maloney

Council member, District 1

Location, Location, Location

As a longtime Prince George's resident and an even longer-time Washington Post reader, I want to to say how pleased I have been with the quality of the Prince George's Extra. It's the section I turn to first on Wednesday, although it is a little annoying to always find it buried with the advertisements folded into the food section. An example of the high quality of reporting on currently important issues in the county is the series of articles on affordable housing by Jackie Spinner, which recently appeared in the Prince George's Extra and in the Metro section. As it turned out, her articles generated much interest in the county as evidenced by other articles, editorials and letters to the editor in the Gazette, Sentinel and Prince George's Journal.

The Prince George's Extra is a welcome addition to the paper. It provides excellent coverage of county news and is of consistently high quality. But get it out of the food section so others can find it.

Robert C. Droege

Hyattsville

Learn From Roxanne Jones

More deserving of the front-page than the Route 301 story was the story of the involvement of Roxanne Jones [Lisa Frazier's Inside Prince George's column, Prince George's Extra, Dec. 8] in her son's life. As much impact as Route 301 will have on our future, our youth will have a far greater impact; they are the future more so than any highway.

The example that Roxanne Jones provides is one that parents with school-age children--especially Prince George's County parents--can learn from. The article should be "required reading" for any parent who is really interested in seeing his child succeed in school and in life.

In the same paper was the article "Metts Unhappy Over Tests." In the article, School Superintendent Iris T. Metts expressed the need to "figure out a way to really jump our [MSPAP test] scores." I suggest the superintendent (and parents) meet and learn from Roxanne Jones. Learn the values and sacrifices that make a difference in the life of a child. And then, make the commitment to values and sacrifices, for the sake of the children.

James D. Long

Fort Washington

The Prince George's Extra welcomes Letters to the Editor. Fax to 301-952-1397, e-mail to pgextra@washpost.com or write to Letters to the Editor, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. Please include your place of residence and a daytime phone number. Letters may be edited.