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Not a real gunfight of course, but a major ‘showdown’ whose consequences may be just as dire….. How come I’m hearing the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as I write this?

In the beginning…..(Skip this paragraph if you are current)

Almost a year into his administration the County Executive met a campaign promise and convened a task force to revise the decade old Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Once the group completed their work inexplicably almost another year passed before the CE put the result forward as legislation almost identical to the task force’s recommendations. After time wasted before the Planning Board, the legislation was finally ready for the Council’s consideration as summer-recess-time 2017 approached.

Fast forward to November, when after hours and wee hours of testimony and an equal amount of work sessions, THE GOOD (Council Members Ball, Terrasa, and Weinstein) succeeded in amending the Bill to most significantly reduce the threshold at which schools would be considered sufficiently over-capacity to delay construction, as well as adding a capacity test for high schools. While some joy was felt by residents, those voting against the passage of the amended bill predicted dire consequences, concluding, incorrectly, that Howard County would now be shut down to development.

Monday night, January 5 at 7:00 p.m. the County Council will vote again on the APFO bill (which passed in November but whose outcome was invalidated due to a ‘calendar miscalculation’). That bill was brought forward exactly as passed in January 2018 as CB 1 and 2, sponsored by the three Council Members who voted to pass it.

However, on the night of the public hearing, THE BAD arguments arose in a clearly orchestrated attempt to mislead the Council and the public–and to shoot holes in the bill. All the elements of a chapter from a political party’s strategy playbook were displayed!

  • Define the issue by using an inappropriate, emotionally charged and entirely inaccurate term—in this case “moratorium” to describe a short-lived, slow-down.
  • Make dire predictions based on unsubstantiated, biased data—in this case, the total collapse of the HoCo economy if developers don’t have a ‘predictable’ atmosphere in which to build on every last inch of land.
  • Make a case for how cruel and heartless slower growth advocates are to those ‘less fortunate’—in this case, those in need of low income housing even if they are not current residents; despite most downtown Columbia projects already being in the pipeline and therefore unaffected; NO regulations requiring low income units be built, and allowing ‘fee in lieu’ to dodge moderate income housing requirements).
  • And when all else fails……shamelessly bring in the parents of individuals with special needs to plead your case for you –in this case, especially those on the autism spectrum, while doing NOTHING to make housing more affordable for them or anyone else.

Where were these people spewing THE BAD arguments for the last year???? Were they simply so confident that the original APFO bill would pass (because most every piece of legislation supporting increased development does) that they felt no need to bother attending and participating????

After THE UGLY Council legislative hearing and THE UGLY Council Work Session (during which only pro-development voices were given an opportunity to be heard), THE UGLY meeting of the Ho Co State delegation regarding enabling legislation to allow HoCo to raise the fees on developers was unsatisfactory to citizens. (Though Hats Off to Delegate Turner for pointing out those fees haven’t be raised in a decade and that paying 2 or 3 times almost nothing [to skirt school capacity issues] is still almost nothing. I guess it is easier to speak the truth when one will be retiring from political office.)

So how come I titled this blog The Gunfight at the APFO Corral rather than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

I predict a BIG Showdown in the Banneker Room on Monday night. Eight substantial amendments have been proposed by 4 individual Council Members. Some raise school capacity figures, some lower them, some delay implementation. Some exempt ‘affordable housing’ from the schools test, some insist on equating housing needs to school capacity needs, some change the adequate roads provision.

Unless the Council takes a highly unlikely vote to table the Bill in order to allow future public testimony on the proposed amendments, only written input can be considered at this point.  I’m comfortable agreeing with others who have put in hours, months, years on the effort to get the best possible APFO for HoCo residents rather than big business.

I therefore suggest the following citizen action:

Go on record with only the briefest note to  Urge the passing of CB1 as drafted, or with the addition of amendments that strengthen the infrastructure of our county, namely amendments 1, 4, 7, and 8. Urge defeat of amendments which would increase school capacity, delay implementation of the APFO high school test, and create exemptions that defeat the basic purpose of APFO, namely amendments 2, 3, and 6. (If # 5 actually weakens the roads test, reject it as well.)

There has been other contentious legislation in the past, but none where citizens have put in more time studying, testifying, advocating, and collaborating.  They will not tolerate a further decline in their quality of life or of their children’s education. They will NOT tolerate the gutting of the bill passed in November. They will NOT soon forget those who attempt to do so. If the community’s desires are shot down, future plans of Council Members, whether seeking elected office or employment by the development community, may be shot down as well.

Our Ho Co State Delegation awaits the passage of CB1 so they can move forward on the companion legislation to address removing the buy-up provisions and increasing school surcharge fees.  Will there be purposeful Council delays to miss the State legislative session, leaving the current incredibly inadequate APFO in place? Will the CE veto the bill under consideration if he feels the economic impact is too great? Will we ever get the truth about whether State enabling legislation is really required since other Charter Counties set their own fees?

The stakes are high and so are the emotions. I expect Feb 5 to be among THE UGLIEST. Will Council Members do the right thing for their constituents? Will the State legislators? Will a referendum be necessary?

Write the Council now, wear yellow, make ‘em look you in the eye Monday night—and meet me on the high road,