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City Council mulls limits on building

June 01, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council took cautious steps Tuesday toward adopting a set of proposed regulations that would restrict the amount of new home building in the city based on the amount of available space for new students at local schools.

"The fear is that the county absolutely could have control over development in the city," City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said of the discussion over the proposed set of rules know as the adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO).

Despite the concern, Metzner and fellow council members gave city staff the go-ahead to continue working on the development regulations.

Prompted by a law passed this spring in the Maryland General Assembly, the City Council took up the APFO and a related tax proposal in its first efforts to put in place a set of rules that will not only set new limits on new development in city limits, but must mesh with county and state regulations.


The bill passed in Annapolis allows the county to change the way it collects its excise tax on new buildings.

The bill covers a range of residential and commercial development that would be subject to the tax. The cost could be as much as $26,000 for a single-family home if the home's school district is determined to be over capacity.

The bill allows municipalities to get a portion of the excise tax if they adopt either the county's APFO or a more restrictive one.

According to city estimates, the city's portion of the excise tax could be as much as $1.8 million between July 1 and Dec. 31.

The money the city would keep could be used for roads, parks, water and sewer system improvements, and public safety.

"I see this as a tool for controlling growth," Metzner said after the city meeting.

Officials identified some logistical and timing problems with the proposed regulations.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said after reading through the proposals, "it kind of sounded to me like we're in a Catch-22."

Cromer and others noted that the county's working version of the APFO blocks developers from building new homes if there isn't enough school capacity. And by doing so, there's no way to shift money to build or expand schools.

City Attorney John Urner said that is one of the points of discussion between city and county officials trying to work out the details of the new regulation.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he's concerned that there isn't enough detail yet to prevent county officials from taking over the city's authority over development planning.

"The city must retain its authority and flexibility over development," Aleshire said after the meeting. "Otherwise, we might as well abandon our planning and zoning department."

Another problem is timing. Under current plans, the new rules for the excise tax collection take effect July 1.

City officials plan to move quickly to settle the tax and APFO bills by June 21, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said. Even if the city votes in favor of the bills, the proposals would have to pass a second vote in July and wouldn't take effect until August.

There have been verbal guarantees, however, between city and county officials for the city to begin being able to collect its portion of money from the county excise tax, Zimmerman said.

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