Oakland Mills Community Association submitted written testimony in support of Howard County Council Resolution (CR97-2019) – “A RESOLUTION approving the terms and conditions of a Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement by and between the Howard County, Maryland and Robinson Overlook Limited Partnership, a limited partnership of the State of Maryland, for a rental housing development to be known as Robinson Overlook, and finding that the Development meets the requirements of certain Special Affordable Housing Opportunities.”

Here is some of that written testimony:

June 17, 2019

Council Members, the testimony attached is being submitted in support of CR97-2019 on behalf of the Oakland Mills Board of Directors and its Education Committee and Housing Committee chaired respectively by Jonathan Edelson and William R. McCormack Jr. At tonight’s hearing Jonathan Edelson, OMCA Board and Education Chair, will present a summary of the testimony. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Education Committee

OMCA supports the proposed Robinson Overlook mixed income development and urges you to support this, including granting an APFO waiver, if necessary. Howard County has both a housing and schools problem. There is much inequity in the availability of affordable housing throughout the county, and there is a large achievement gap among children from less economically advantaged backgrounds. It’s time to open the county to families from different backgrounds, and it’s time to end the stark differences among school populations in schools that are just miles apart, in some cases.

Robinson Overlook presents an opportunity to give Howard County families the chance to live in a part of the county where there is currently nothing available to them. It also presents an opportunity to begin balancing school demographics. All of the schools this development would currently attend have far fewer students from lower income backgrounds than the county average of over 20 percent. These schools currently have rates of children receiving free and reduced meals that come in at half or even a quarter of the county average. Contrast that with schools serving existing Housing Commission properties where rates are as high as 67 percent. We can address this and provide more opportunity in Howard County. Desegregated schools lift everyone.

School overcrowding is certainly a concern in Howard County – until someone is told they may have to leave their preferred school due to overcrowding. Then attention turns to moving someone else out of a school or preventing someone else from attending. Robinson Overlook is not an example of a developer getting rich at the expense of our children. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s an example of opening more of Howard County to more children. For this reason alone, APFO should be waived for such a development.

Affordable housing advocates raised concerns that APFO could be used to block affordable housing. Some accused these advocates of being influenced by wealthy developers. Allowing APFO to stop this development would confirm just what the affordable housing advocates feared. Furthermore, the school system is embarking on another attempt at comprehensive attendance area boundary adjustments. Only one school that would serve Robinson Overlook is considered closed right now. Other nearby schools are not closed. This is an opportunity for both the County Council and our Board of Education to come down on the right side of history. Waive APFO, allow the development to continue, and work with the Board of Education to ensure the boundary adjustments accommodate the few more children who would be introduced to the schools.

A comprehensive housing plan for the county would be an even greater step toward a more open Howard County. With such a plan, there would be no need for individual hearings on each affordable housing development. Such a plan could also remove roadblocks to affordable housing such as APFO or claims of lacking public transportation. The Housing Commission, transportation officials, and school officials could refer to this plan and make their own plans accordingly, or better yet, they could work together to ensure the plan can be executed successfully. Such a plan would also provide a much better perspective on the imbalances in housing availability throughout the county. Many mistakes have been made over the years, and these mistakes are clearly reflected in cold hard data if you look at the distribution of affordable housing in the county, the different demographics of neighborhoods, and school populations that look nothing like the county averages or the reality of our society.

You can read the full testimony provided in this PDF (4 pages worth of written testimony).

I have been doing my research on this project asking questions about the true mixed income realities of the project, the long term viability of the project (20+ years down the road) and potential transportation concerns I had for the residents living in that development. Howard County Government staff members have been willing to engage with me about the questions I had about this development.

For those interested…there is public transit within a 10 minute walk of the property:

Given the street view (via Google)…I am not sure how one would walk the route above to and from the bus station at Robinson Nature Center:

I hope more attention is placed on this issue if this is the only bus station in that area (it is all I could find in my research…if I am missing something…feel free to email me). While I have been told that the expectation is that most or all families in Robinson Overlook will have their own transportation…I hope it is not something that hinders those that may move in to that development that do not have their own transportation.

Given all of the information I now have…I think this is a good project and I expect it to move forward with what is needed to make this happen.

Scott E

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