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Choosing Insanity

We all know our County’s slogan of “Choose Civility”, but lately I have been thinking of that age old “definition” of insanity and thinking that is what is being chosen too often. For instance, why does anyone believe that doing the same thing that has been done for decades will result in anything different when looking at Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) issues, quality of life issues, and crowded roads and schools? Depending on what legislation passes, on APFO, we could be faced with doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results, which would be choosing insanity.

A lot of attention has been placed on APFO because of the extreme concern about the crowded School System, and how to alleviate that, including redistricting. These concerns placed on top of the widespread slow growth advocates’ outreach has created quite a stir lately, pressuring the Council to amend APFO to help slow growth and assist infrastructure improvement measures. Many amendments are being proposed and a work session on those is taking place on Monday, October 23rd at 4:30pm. I will blog again after the vote about the exact changes made.

Many questions have been raised regarding this subject. How much do Howard County developers pay versus in other counties? Does raising impact fees actually just raise home prices? Is holding development off for more than 4 years, a “taking”of property, thus risking litigation? Don’t resales of older homes contribute more to school population than development?

I will address these one by one. Here is a chart, below this paragraph, for 2016, of what other counties charge in developer fees. You will see several charts from APFO work sessions refer to Howard County square footage averages. This is a necessary piece of data, because other counties use a unit cost, but we use a square footage cost. The large square footages of single family homes in the West, are way more than, say, apartments being built in the East of the County. I have been told, by developers, that a fair average to use for ALL is 2000 square feet. If one wants to compare certain types of housing to that same type in other counties, then by all means, use 5000, or 3000, but if you want an overall average, it is more like 2000 because of all the apartments. Go to page 59, and you can see just how much more other counties are charging; however, adding in the fee-in-lieu of providing Moderate Income Housing Units (MIHU) is a legitimate add-on for us, which is currently, $2.07 per sq.ft, according to Council Bill 75-2016. Other counties have affordable housing programs, mostly using incentives. Growing counties, compared to us, are charging way more, even with MIHU in our numbers, as you can see.

But, if we increase those fees, won’t developers just pass that onto home prices? The housing market determines home prices, supply and demand. Developers will price homes at the best price they can get for them, at all times. Only a monopoly can just increase prices without decreasing demand. Developers don’t have a monopoly on home prices. Costs borne by all “brand new” development, could have a small impact, over a long period of time, but mostly on new homes. Frankly, a bit of a decrease in demand on new homes couldn’t hurt us here, as we have a lot of infrastructure needs to catch up.

So, that leads us to the resale issue. If we look at school enrollment, we are told 42% come from “new” development? But how new is it? Is one year brand new? Is it 5, or more? Saying “development” is not responsible for new enrollment in schools because only each year’s newest development feed is tallied, is not appropriate. Resales of fairly new homes should not be lumped into all the resales figures here. They are still from recent development. Also, since age-restricted housing doesn’t take the APFO school test, not sure how resales of older homes just gets off the hook there.

Lastly, a “taking” is defined in the law as leaving a property owner without any economic value to the property. It is rare that a delay in obtaining the maximum possible profit one can reap from owned property would cause it to have no value. There is a big difference between 4 years and indefinitely. Other counties have longer APFO waits than 4 years and aren’t being sued. Our definition seems to be quite wildly conservative there, especially since the wait for allocations is unlimited. Also, I really have to wonder what developer would sue the County over a project delay. The County has so many other areas in the development process where things could be held up, or compromises made. It would seem counter to their self-interest for property owners to sue the County over a school wait.

It has been a long time waiting for APFO reform. I hope the legislation sees needed changes, at least to match what the APFO task force actually agreed to do. It was a lot of work to get those compromises and I really want to see them implemented, and now, not a year from now. If we need MD State law amendments, then so be it, that can come next year.

For now, I deeply appreciate all the attention and hard work placed on these important issues, and hope to see amendments I, and so many others, have begged the Council to consider, get implemented.

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