IT'S GROUNDHOG YEAR
For a long time, and especially over the past two years, Howard County advocates for slowing down development for the sake of improving public services, especially crowded schools, have fought hard to get the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) strengthened. The changes get fully implemented soon, after serious delays. During the Council considerations of better school capacity recognition and some longer delays, there were so many MYTHS put forth by development stakeholders, which were debunked, and luckily, the Council and County Executive passed the stronger regulations last year.
Currently, a local Bill has been sponsored by Delegate Atterbeary, to give our local government the long overdue right to increase woefully low development impact fees in Howard County. The same old MYTHS are being bandied about, most recently, at the Delegation work session this past Saturday.
It was very frustrating to hear the same old arguments used to paint a picture that the new APFO restrictions would create a problem for the County. A lot of emphasis was placed on other “solutions” to the school overcrowding problem, which all need to be analyzed, but not in lieu of increasing developer fees, because that is the most appropriate and highest amount of financial assistance that can be provided for this problem.
I hope that any desire to increase transfer taxes, in order to have resales help with school capacity increases, is not done instead of increasing impact fees on development. It shouldn’t even be required to be done one versus the other. If the Delegation wants to put forth these issues, they need to be unattached as the notion that most new student enrollment doesn’t come from development is absurd.
MYTH 1 – 42% of new students come from development, the rest are from resales.
The chart that the DPZ keeps showing at these types of hearings is seriously flawed. I was told the way it was derived, was to take 2 years’ worth of data on students enrolled from BRAND NEW developments. Then, 100% less that number of students as a %, is assumed to be from resales! So “new” development is just brand new and one-year old homes? Also, these kids stay in the system, not just for two years either, and the total keeps growing and continuing. Resales do not add anywhere near the number of students as new development does, especially when you correctly identify what is a “new” home and how long the students stay in the system.
MYTH 2 – Slowing development will deeply hurt us financially.
Another ridiculous claim is that new development pays for itself. If you solely look at income and property tax revenues, new residents equal more funds, yes, but there are significant costs associated with incoming residents as well. This is offsetting when considering just the operating costs of students in the school system. Add to that, road congestion issues, and capital expenses needed, health costs, safety issues of the increased populace, and it is clearly untrue that slowing development will cost the County too much money, especially when the strengthened APFO only halts development for a very temporary amount of time.
No other source of guaranteed revenues for schools comes close to that gained by raising impact fees. Even at lower amounts during a temporary, stronger APFO halt, the bond multiplier amount is very significant and needed now regardless of any other possible sources identified.
MYTH 3 – halting development more than 4 years will get the County sued.
Halting development for more than 4 years is being touted as a “taking” of property rights, over which developers could sue That is inaccurate. Nowhere in the law, nor case law is this amount of time noted. Quite the opposite actually, as the Supreme Court recently used the measure (yes, in a case unrelated to school waits, but still a relevant measurement), of a taking being illegal when it leaves NO economic value to a property, not less value, no value. Howard County needs to stop defining removing any possible ability to have the MAXIMUM possible value of one’s property, as a “taking”, as that is not the legal measurement. Other county’s hold up development with APFO issues up to 8 years and they aren’t getting sued.
So, given this frustrating evening, watching the attacks on APFO strengthening and pushing alternatives to increasing impact fee increases, I have a big suggestion for our current administration.
Stop having the County represent that 4 years is a taking. Stop having the County represent that slowing development for a few years will financially destroy us, believing absurd studies that take no expense savings into account. Stop having the County represent that only 42% of “new” students come from development. These three MYTHS ending, would lend more credibility to the County’s research into this complicated issue.
Other myths that come up regarding slowing growth include the concern that it will cause inadequate supply of affordable housing. If we stopped allowing fees in lieu of providing this housing, or “alternative compliance” of providing it, we would not need special exemptions, which then only give incentive to concentrate it. Where do you think affordable housing supply is going to go when you exempt it from school tests? It will go where the schools are the most crowded, a disservice to those in need.
One other myth, making the rounds, arguing against increasing developer costs, is that they will simply pass it onto the home buyer with higher home prices. Developers don’t have a monopoly on housing supply. Many things affect home prices, and there is not so much wiggle room in current pricing versus what the market will bear, that developers can just increase their prices because of increased cost to a portion of the supply. The most recent economic presentation by the County to the County Council, this past Monday, included the same APFO revenue gloomy predictions, without the offsetting cost savings. Also, it was stated that a recession will depress home prices in a few years. Wait, I thought increased fees were going to raise home prices? Watch out for these studies being conducted because there are contradictions and lots of missing dominoes.
I hope that the promises many of our Howard County Delegation made during their campaigns to address the issue of woefully low impact fees to developers is kept, and they pass Delegate Atterbeary’s Bill without a cap, and allow our local legislators to set the appropriate amount of fees, as needed for our County’s well-being, now and in the future. What with all the numbers thrown at the Delegation this past weekend, the one thing I hope they remember is how much those fees will bring to the County, even with a temporary halt. No other alternative modeled came close to the financial help of that.