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After a long silence, I’d like to share the following advice to our County Council: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, meaning we should not be paralyzed into inaction because we cannot achieve a perfect solution to a specific problem. The idealized perfect solution becomes an obstacle to solutions that are adequate, or at least an improvement on what we have now. (Neurologica 10/9/17)

There are numerous, perhaps too many, meaty pieces of legislation before the County Council this month which MAY be brought to a vote tomorrow, October 7th. I say MAY, because if a betting woman, I’d have money down on two bills of great personal interest being tabled (put off). I hope they are of interest to you as well, both for the bills’ content/ intent AND for the activities that will likely delay their consideration.

After attending the Council legislative session, reading testimony submitted, and attending the Council work sessions on September 27 and October 4 I fear the handwriting is on the wall. Despite my sincere hope for a new day, it appears nothing much is going to change at this point. Like Councils before them, SOMETHING will prevent our new Council from actually passing meaningful legislation to increase developer impact fees (CB-42-2019) and to protect lives in the Patapsco Watershed by strengthening development and subdivision regulations in the Ellicott City Floodplain (CB-38-2019).

Some background on each, and the reason for my pessimism:

CB-42-2019 proposes to raise the impact fees on residential new development from $1.32 to $6.81 per square foot.

With 4 of 5 Council members sponsoring or co-sponsoring (Rigby, Jung, Jones, Walsh), one would expect this bill to be a sure and easy pass. As one with a death grip on optimism, I looked at this bill and thought “AT LAST!  It has been a multiyear journey to get here, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Yet, how oddly poetic (or perhaps suspicious?) that this bill is brought forward at a point in time when parents are frantic over proposed redistricting. Parents have little remaining energy to consider the root cause of overcrowding/ lack of capacity within our school system.  Significantly lower developer fees in HoCo, compared with surrounding jurisdictions, have for decades supported rapid development without provision for adequate public facilities.   As a result HoCo schools and roadways are hopelessly overcrowded and forests are disappearing at a frightening rate. It feels like every ploy imaginable—and a few unimaginable –have been utilized to delay/prevent any negative impact on developers:

Who could comprehend former Executive Kittleman sitting on the APFO committee’s final recommendations for a full year only to introduce the legislation as basically written by the committee— and with so few points of agreement due to the committees inability to achieve super majority votes?

What activist can forget this post midnight scene? ……… Builders congratulate each other for quietly running out the legislative time clock when over capacity was redefined in the APFO bill to be 105% in elementary, 110% for middle, and for the first time setting a capacity on high schools (115%) beyond which development would be halted for up to 4 years. When APFO eventually passed, how many were surprised by the staggered effective date?

Who could have imagined our State Legislators would take three years (with a different delaying tactic each year) to pass the new enabling legislation that finally permits the Council to raise fees, but with predetermined exemptions.

In the current Council session Diffuse and Confuse continues to be tops in the Building Industry’s playbook and sadly it appears to be working yet again. How come the light at the end of the tunnel has once again proven to be the Development Train, loaded down with sad prophesies of the demise of Howard County, of the building industry, and (the red flag) of affordable housing? To quote Hiruy Lucas Hadgu, “The only time developers invoke affordable housing and equity is to protect their profits. This is not to say elected officials ………. don’t want to create equity or help bring affordable housing, but using their public profiles to elevate the message of developers is not a good way to show it.”

Doom and gloom, doom and gloom, doom and gloom……..

It isn’t possible to describe here the intricate inter-relationship between developer impact fees, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, School Redistricting, and Affordable Housing but you are welcome to revisit previous posts for a refresher.  You can also refer to

https://www.baltimoresun.com › maryland › howard › cng-ho-oped-guarn…

Yes, the Council should consider the opinions of everyone who presents or submits testimony, but hopefully they will identify that testimony which is completely self-serving and detrimental to the public good. I applaud the Council sharing how they arrived at the new fee to eliminate the argument that it was baseless. 

https://www.facebook.com/councilwomancmr/videos/979601355725063/

I admit to personally having difficulty accepting that only 42% of new enrollments are generated by new development. I challenge how DPZ narrowly defines a new student and their assertion that new homes only generate .5 students per newly constructed household.  Consequently I’d be happiest with an even higher fee since the current rate only covers the debt service on school construction.

I applaud the Council calling a work session on CB-42 to get additional information from the Board of Education and from the Department of Planning and Zoning in order to reach their best decision. Since both the BoE and the DPZ failed to attend the session (terribly disrespectful!) I feel the Council should not allow itself to be further delayed.

The proposed rate is not perfect, BUT, I would prefer to settle for the $6.81 rate immediately, before more developments escape it completely. With so little undeveloped land remaining, many already consider us ‘built out.’ We can never recapture that which was given away during previous administrations, but we can say THIS is the new rate for now—without exception– and set a re-evaluation date 2 to 3 years in the future.  That wouldn’t be PERFECT, but it would be GOOD. And GOOD is far superior to our existing BAD situation.

 

Rather than debating endlessly who should be exempted, who should be grandfathered, who should be discounted, etc. I urge the Council to move forward and vote.

In my opinion there are important lessons here–

For the Building Industry:

  • Come up with some fresh talking points. The current ones are stale and disingenuous.
  • Don’t expect sympathy from citizens. Man up, pay your fare share, and be thankful for all the years you got to ride the gravy train at citizen expense.
  • If you love dense barren development, feel free to move YOUR family into some.

For HoCo Department Heads and staffs:

  • Show the Council the respect and the courtesy of showing up when requested at work sessions.
  • Come prepared; don’t rely on “I don’t know that off the top of my head” or “I don’t have that material with me” to delay the Council from taking action.
  • Accept the fact that they may move on without you if you ignore the points above.

For Council members:

  • Remember providing adequate facilities to citizens trumps providing yet more income to developers, builders, land use attorneys, and realtors.
  • Please don’t sponsor a bill if you intend to weaken it by undertaking the role of Defender of the Detractors
  • Avoid checking texts from the ever present Party operative(s) during work sessions. It’s too easy for attendees to see who is hitting send just before you glance at your phone and offer new counter arguments.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good! 

For me:

  • Don’t try to contrast two important bills in one blog. This one is not perfect but I need to get it published.
  • So practicing what I preach, I’ll move on and try to address CB-38 in another blog before Monday evening

Let the Council know what you think about CB-42 (councilmail@howardcountymd.gov) and meet me on the high road,

Susan