It's broke; growth policy won't fix it
Dec. 5, 2003
Cary Lamari




In a Nov. 5 editorial ("It's broke; this will fix it"), The Gazette disagreed with a civic activist who charged that the County Council action on the Annual Growth Policy wasn't a "gift" but rather a "payoff" to developers.

Well folks, I am the activist who made that charge. Let me explain why I feel that way.

Let's start with Councilman Steven A. Silverman. In his remarks prior to casting his vote that gut the growth policy, he said that no one could look at an impact tax on development as a gift to developers. He also said, "I did not get elected to keep areas in moratorium in Montgomery County."

People need to understand that the council members who voted to gut our growth policy are the same people who ran as the End Gridlock team, the same people who collectively received more than $1.5 million from developers to fund their bid to take over the County Council.

Let's analyze what the developers will get for their investment.

The county is almost at build-out with about 20 percent development still to be realized, mostly in moratorium and Metro station policy areas.

Clarksburg is one of those areas in moratorium -- an area lacking adequate public facilities, so if you want to build there you have to build the infrastructure. The council staff analyzed Clarksburg and concluded that developing it under the master plan, using the old growth policy, would cost developers in the neighborhood of $200 million for roads, not counting schools. They also said the new impact tax, just in Clarksburg, would yield only about $120 million for roads, a loss of $80 million that the taxpayers will either have to commit to for Clarksburg's development or accept less infrastructure. The staff told me the latter is most likely what county residents could expect.

The Planning Board has estimated that new housing costs the county more than $36,000 each unit. The tax implemented by the council recovers only about 40 percent of that.

The county has more than 680 portable classrooms, which equates to a deficit equal to more than 30 schools, mostly in the down county and eastern parts of our county.

What is the County Council's response to this problem? It decided to open moratorium areas that do not have sufficient schools capacity to support new growth. It chose not to support any cap on growth but rely solely on a tax to be charged to this growth to fund additional classrooms.

Also, the council has allowed so many loopholes to affordable housing laws that developers are more often turning to buy-out provisions that yield only nominal amounts rather than providing the housing.

The council is supposed to act in the public interest when making land-use decisions. It is supposed to consider their effects on public facilities such as schools, roads, parks, sewers and water facilities. The council has now created a conflict between the adequate public facilities law and the county growth policy by approving a policy that collects a tax in lieu of requiring adequate infrastructure. They should and can do both. Shame on the County Council.

 

Cary Lamari of Silver Spring is president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, which was established in 1925 and is an umbrella organization with more than 100 local umbrella civic organizations under it.