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Jay Young

New Council's First Action Is Encouraging

Harford Business Ledger: March 2007

The new County Council took its oath of office on December 4, 2006, and held its first Council meeting on December 5th -- and it didn't take long for a controversial issue to present itself.

The previous Council had lowered the restriction-triggering school capacity percentages from 120 to 105%; if overcrowding passes 105%, a building moratorium is imposed to prohibit plan approvals for new developments in that district. That's the law. The passage of that law caused the imposition of a building moratorium in most of the school districts throughout the County, with the exception of those along the Route 40 Corridor and in North Harford.

In this case, the controversy arose over a policy which has been utilized by the County for over a decade. Under this policy, when funding is appropriated for a capital project in a school district which will result in an increase in school capacity, that increased capacity is included in the numbers used to determine when a building moratorium is lifted. The policy projects out two years into the future on the theory that, even if the building moratorium is lifted, it would take at least two years to get through the development process and construct a home which could house a student seeking to enroll in a school in that district.

This policy is just that -- a policy. It is not specifically set forth in the legislation, which is why controversy can occur. The policy came under fire because, now that capital projects in schools have been funded and school construction has occurred, some moratoria are now being lifted. The lifting of these building moratoria have attracted the attention of unhappy anti-development forces.

Those anti-development forces approached Councilman Dion Guthrie in an attempt to trump the policy with legislation. Councilman Guthrie introduced legislation to change the County policy by enacting a law prohibiting lifting the moratoria based on the funding of capital school projects. His proposal would have required the actual completion of the project before the additional space could be counted. But then, new Councilman "Captain" Jim McMahan introduced counter-legislation to legislatively affirm the County policy of counting the extra school capacity once the capital project is funded.

I have no doubt that the previous County Council would have passed Councilman Guthrie's bill; it is very encouraging to the business and development community that logic prevailed over emotion and Councilman McMahan's bill passed instead. The reason I focus on this issue is because this particular piece of legislation will probably be a real bellwether for future Council action. My next column will discuss significant upcoming issues related to the comprehensive rezoning and a whole new Zoning Ordinance. These issues will likely be the most important legislative issues to face this County in decades, if not generations. It is important that these issues be faced with logic, courage and leadership. That appears to be the direction in which this Council is heading. Bravo!

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