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Anti-sprawl laws often can promote sprawl, study says

April 29, 2006|By DAVID DISHNEAU

HAGERSTOWN

Adequate public facilities ordinances aimed at controlling residential sprawl often have the opposite effect in Maryland by deflecting home construction away from the very areas designated for development, according to a study by the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education.

The finding by three University of Maryland professors supports what builders have been saying for years: building moratoriums triggered by APFOs tend to boost housing prices locally and fuel the development pattern that the state's "smart growth" policies seek to curtail.

"The bottom line is that the best of intentions often go awry when it comes to making public policy," John Kortecamp, chief executive of the Baltimore Area Home Builders Association of Maryland, said Friday. The association paid for the study along with another developer trade group, the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association.

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The report recommends new mechanisms for funding the needed improvements, and limiting building moratoriums in areas designated for growth.

APFOs are local ordinances designed to ensure that public schools, roads, sewers and public-safety services are "adequate" to support new development. Thirteen Maryland counties and 12 cities or towns have adopted APFOs, according to the report, which was released Thursday.

When public services at a proposed development site are judged to be inadequate under an APFO, the result is often a moratorium on building until the infrastructure is ready to come on line, the researchers found. Their research, conducted in 2005, showed that moratoriums were frequently imposed in "priority funding areas," the areas specifically designated for growth under the state's Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation initiative of 1997.

Smart-growth policies are supposed to steer development to existing communities and curb suburban sprawl. But imposing building moratoriums - sometimes indefinitely - in priority funding zones defeats smart growth by driving developers to exurban areas with fewer restrictions in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the authors found.

"In the abstract, most everyone agrees that growth should be channeled into existing urban areas so as to preserve natural resources and open space. APFOs as they are used in Maryland appear to prevent that from happening," said Gerrit Knaap, the research center's executive director and a professor in Urban Studies and Planning.

Instead of delaying development until adequate public facilities are in place, "the infrastructure is often never provided and growth is deflected to less-desirable locations," Knaap said.

In Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties, the researchers found that APFOs deflected as much as 10 percent of the new home development that otherwise would have occurred in designated growth areas. The prices of remaining homes rose as a result, they found.

The report recommends that the General Assembly expand local governmental powers to raise funds for needed facilities through special tax districts or tax increment financing. It also says the legislature should consider limiting the time allowed for APFO-based moratoriums in designated growth areas. Finally, the report proposes creating a state fund to speed infrastructure improvements in priority funding areas.

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