At What Cost?
On the evening of Monday, January 22, the County Council held a work session on the “redo” of Council Bill 1 (CB1) – the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). Although there were many stakeholders at this session, only those opposed to the Bill were allowed to speak. No one who supported the Bill was heard, including those, like me, who were invited to attend. Thus, I am providing this blog post to give an analysis of the concerns presented.
On Monday February 5, the Council will either vote on or table CB1. I believe the Bill should pass as is. Please make your views on this important legislation known to the Council at CouncilMail@howardcountymd.gov
For those familiar with this situation, skip to the Analysis section. Otherwise, please read on, if you are interested in development issues in Howard County.
APFO has not been amended since 2000. In November 2017, CB61 (a bill with amendments strengthening APFO) “almost” passed. Many felt it was a true compromise between what developers wanted and what the School System and many slower growth advocates (like me) wanted, and it included recommendations from the APFO task force, on which I served.
Although CB61 had enough votes to pass, the Council erred in its scheduling of the vote, and the bill expired. CB1 is the reintroduced Bill, and is supposed to be a simple “technical redo” to fix the scheduling error. Some stakeholders, however, are using the additional time to alter the Council’s vote.
The Howard County Economic Development Authority (EDA) created a financial report citing concerns about CB1 causing a “moratorium on development” (their words). They indicated great cost to the County of even a temporary halt in development. There are large omissions in the EDA report. Then, Affordable Housing advocates expressed concern that even a temporary halt in development would “eliminate” the supply of Affordable Housing, (actually delaying). The Housing Commission outlined a tax credit program which could help with that supply at the work session.
Financial Issues -
CB1 contains a huge developer benefit by capping the wait on housing unit allocations plus the school capacity wait. Even though CB1 cites 5,6,7 years, the wait time is actually REDUCED and NOT increased under ANY scenario, because current wait time for housing unit allocations is unlimited.
As zoning changes occur, which I see happening very often, the wait for allocations will increase, and school waits will then decrease due to the cap on that in CB1. That mitigating factor is not in the EDA report.
The EDA financial report has no offsetting savings from not having to provide public services to the held off new students and residents, which, even if just considering operating costs to schools would offset most of their costs. Other mitigating issues on how much development is actually halted, include the known coming of new schools, the benefits of decreased waits in the Bill, exempt units, and the fact that 4 years is not the max wait anyway. It is sometimes 3, depending on when allocations are received, not to mention, the amount of time development already takes to go through the process.
The Past Predicts the Future. During past APFO changes, including when the Middle School test was added, this same doom and gloom hysteria was noted, along with dire financial predictions. None of these predictions came true.
Affordable Housing Issues:
The effect of CB1 on affordable housing is minor. First, it includes exemption from the housing unit allocations test for MIHU (Moderate Income Housing Units), and exemption from the school capacity test for urban renewal projects. The only affect is a temporary halt on development that doesn’t require low income housing and can pay out of providing moderate income housing. There is likely delay in supply of Columbia units since they were provided under a separate agreement, but it is a delay, not an elimination. That delay is because of school overcrowding, an upside that equally benefits all students. Exemptions counter the infrastructure pacing needs. The goal of desiring exemptions from APFO tests could be met with other regulations. For instance, if the County desires to increase the supply of affordable housing, it should look to regulations that require it, and fees that avoid it.
If the Council decides to put more exemptions in APFO, to offset the halted housing supply, then any exemptions should be tied to CB1 school capacities. That way if capacities are changed in the future, the offset can change also. Also, since offsets are desired regarding changes made in CB1, no new exemptions should be allowed in school areas over 115%.
The Housing Commission described tax credit program information that could utilize resources to place affordable housing possibly strategically. The problem is the credits have to be used in two years, and all development in HoCo takes at least 3. So, accommodating this program would take a lot more than exemptions in CB1 to fast track enough to work.
OTHER STUDIES - There are studies that show the effects of school overcrowding, including decreased quality of education, safety issues, and even increased behavioral problems. This touches on the issue of quality of life issues in County decisions.
When the County makes quality of life decisions, we don’t hear about all the opportunity costs and say no. For example, the Agricultural Preservation Program is not considered too expensive to do because of the missing tax money from the lost development. We don’t see arguments about lost income and lost housing provision in that decision and rightly so. We don’t consider providing affordable housing too expensive because the tax revenue is less, again rightly so. Why is it when we are talking about helping the quality of education, and the safety and health of our students, it is too expensive? It isn’t, even if the “costs” weren’t offset.
SOURCE CHART for ALLOCATIONS/SCHOOL WAIT ISSUES in CB1
The wait for allocations is unchanged. The combination of the allocations plus school wait has the school waits in the following ways. “indicated refer to what happens with the Bill, compared to current law without the Bill. Issues herein are on Page 14 of CB1.
If a project doesn’t wait for allocations, there is no change.
If a project has waited less than 2 years for allocations, max school wait 3-4 years, cap here is 6.
If a project has waited 2-3 years for allocations, max wait for schools 3-4, cap here is 6.
If a project has waited 4 years for allocations, max wait is 3-4, cap here is 7,
If a project has waited 5 years for allocations, max wait is 3-4, cap here is 7,
If a project has waited 6 or more years for allocations, max wait is 3-4, requirement here is 1 year added.
THIS has not been reflected in the “red map” or the financial report by HCEDA.
As density increases, with known coming units and also zoning changes that will produce high density soon to be approved, allocation waits will increase. Thus, school waits will shorten in length. Note that CB1 will shorten school waits as allocation waits rise.