Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) yesterday proposed legislation that would tighten limits on new home construction when area public elementary schools are crowded.
The proposed changes to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance follow the recommendations of a committee that Robey appointed earlier this year to assess how well the seven-year-old law has worked. The committee suggested adjusting the school capacity levels that would trigger a building ban in a given area.
As enrollment booms have filled Washington area schools beyond their capacities, growing counties in Maryland, such as Anne Arundel and St. Mary's, have adopted policies to curb residential growth. Others, such as Prince George's, charge builders fees to compensate schools for the additional students their developments will bring. In Virginia, however, the General Assembly has not given counties permission to enact such measures.
Currently, developers in Howard County can't build new houses in an area where the elementary school is filled to 120 percent of capacity. The legislation, which will be introduced formally at a County Council meeting Jan. 3, would lower that to 115 percent. It also would add a rule that in any area where elementary school enrollment exceeds capacity, no more than 300 new building units would be allowed per year.
The County Council's two freshman Republican members plan to try to toughen the ordinance further. Allan H. Kittleman (West County) and Christopher J. Merdon (Northeast County) said yesterday they will propose an amendment to tie development restrictions to middle school enrollments.
The school system is expected to grow 16 percent in the next five years. The elementary population will peak first--by 2003--with middle school enrollment expected to peak in 2007.
"We think that middle schools should be included in that test," Kittleman said. "That's something that both Chris and I ran on."
Kittleman, Merdon and fellow freshman council member Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) said last year that their first priority on the council would be to strengthen the public facilities ordinance.
County Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. said he does not support the proposal being pushed by Kittleman and Merdon. "The committee spent a considerable amount of time looking at that," he said. "There is a big problem with testing both middle school levels and elementary school levels."
Rutter said that enrollment areas for elementary and middle schools overlap but are different. So, for example, a building ban imposed because a middle school is crowded might affect an area where the elementary school is not.