Select Page

How come our Council can’t ‘get the math right’ on development impact fees (CB-42)?  Despite passionately professing a strong desire to correctly and precisely set development impact fees to support school construction (no matter how loooong it takes), the Council seems to be heading in the wrong direction.  Through amendments which reduce or totally exempt certain developers or certain categories, the Council is SUBTRACTING when they should be ADDING to the charges.  They are having difficulty establishing an equation with the right variables which solves HoCo’s problem of inadequate school capacity.

I suspect the problem stems from the assumptions underlying their calculations and the inability to eliminate irrelevant or misleading information.

Calculating this fee is rather like the dreaded math ‘word problem’ we all faced in math classes. Surely you recall the infamous variety of “Two trains depart from two stations forty miles apart at 4:50 p.m. Train A is traveling at 38 mph and Train B is traveling at 45 mph.  At what time and at which mile marker will the engines begin to pass one another? Bonus question: Will Mr. Onno still get to pay the early bird special rate for his dinner if he waits until the engines pass one another?”

It’s dangerous to make too many assumptions in this example just as with the impact fee calculation. Should one assume from the start that the 2 trains are actually headed to the station from which each other departed—if not the trains may never pass one another. Must we guess at when the early bird special hours are?

Assuming the veracity of information provided by developers and their industry association, as well as affordable housing advocates (including those whose non-profits have the County as their major funding source) may provide similarly misleading paths. Sadly the same is true for planning staff from the HCPSS and the County, both of whom insist that new development only accounts for 42% of new student enrollment.

Why do I keep thinking about an aunt who would often lament of her mischievous offspring that “…one lies and the other swears to it.”

I do actually respect the time and effort that has gone into that 42% calculation, however, I don’t for one minute believe it.  Neither should you, the Council, or anyone who attended last week’s Council work session. It was clearly stated that “coming from new development” has been defined, by the planning departments’ rules, to only apply to any children who enter the school system within the first 2 years after the newly built home is occupied. Think for just a moment and you will realize that to assume, to accept, that definition as rational thought, truly does “make an ass of u and me.”  To accept that egregious assumption is to accept that the occupants of a newly developed home with eighteen month old triplets will have no fiscal/capacity impact on our school system!

Until this basic assumption is addressed by the Council (and both planning departments) we will continue to grossly underestimate how many children are being generated by each new development. This miscalculation has been magnified exponentially by the number of proposed amendments which provide exemptions for ‘one bleeding heart story after another’. By lowering the much needed fees and lowering the units to which it will apply even more, Council members will be permitting developers to effectively continue to steal from our children as well as pass the financial burden to taxpayers.

AND WHILE I’M AT IT………

I must also express my disappointment that some Council members, with the best intentions to take care of our most vulnerable, are again assuming that everything they are being told by “housing advocates” is correct. The part of me that worked in the disability field for 40 years initially reacted with enthusiasm to see that low income units for persons with disabilities were being considered in CB-50-2019. However, if indeed the plan is to provide the equivalent credit of 5 affordable units for developing 1 “disability unit” some important information has clearly been withheld from the Council and the housing advocates.

The vast number of adaptations necessary to make an existing unit accessible to an individual with a physical impairment cost $200. When a new unit is constructed following “universal design for living” principles, there is little extra expense involved over the norm. For example, doorways are made wider, light switches are installed lower, as are closet rods. But ALL homes have doors, light switches and closet rods.  Today’s no-step showers can accommodate rolling in on a shower chair, and blocking for grab bars is inconsequential while walls are still open. Cabinets are eliminated under bathroom sinks and thresholds are eliminated throughout.

A conversation overheard between a developer and a development attorney confirmed this recently. It included an admission by the developer that the 1 for 5 deal would be a real money maker for them!  How come there is seemingly no end to the benefits developers receive legislatively??? Let’s rethink that 5:1 trade-off please.

It’s not too late to write to councilmail@howardcountymd.gov to provide guidance to the Council members on CB-42 and CB-50 before they vote on Monday evening Nov. 4th. 

Remind them, as your math teacher did, to check their work–and meet me on the high road,

Susan