Im my article “Howard County Council Bill 1-2020 is shot down by 3 councilmembers” I included a social media post from Councilmember Liz Walsh. Councilmember David Yungmann has made a couple of posts on this topic and I thought it fair to share his comments to my readers.
After asking for CB-1 to be tabled two months in a row, I voted against the bill tonight. This does not indicate a change in my belief that the systems we have in place to create sufficient school capacity and prevent overcrowding are not working as well as they could. The new APFO utilization limits passed in 2018 have reduced development activity dramatically, but it’s still possible for a project to eventually open into an overcrowded school. The answer can’t only be slowing economic activity and impairing property values though, especially with a potential downturn around the corner. I voted NO for two main reasons.
First is the real potential of an economic downturn. I am unwilling to support anything that costs Howard County jobs right now given the imminent threat to our economy. People can debate the long term fiscal impacts of residential development, but it’s clear that the positive economic activity happens on the front end through jobs, school surcharges, impact fees and transfer taxes. These will be critical sources of revenue during this next fiscal year, yet the same people who will criticize my vote on CB-1 will be leading the charge for more school funding next month.
The lack of an in-depth public work session with all parties at the same table hearing the same information and debating the same ideas also led to my decision to vote NO. I believe the solution lies in a combination of changes to DPZ policy, land use goals, APFO, school planning and construction funding, all codified in a coordinated strategy. It requires a joint commitment between county government, the school system, the Council, the BOE and the public, along with a higher level of innovation from our school system that continues to manage growth the way it did in the 1970s. I have zero confidence that the situation would be any different if HCPSS had 2 more years to create capacity. The answer is not a change to one narrow part of the system that again places the entire burden on our economy and property owners. Unfortunately, despite the two extra months, we never had an in depth public work session with all these parties in a room collaborating on how things are done now, what combination of changes will address the issues and what each party must commit to contribute. We spent less than 3 total hours on the topic over several different sessions, none of which with all parties at the same table, and which also failed to provide a valuable opportunity for the public to understand the facts. While the shutdown of the past 3 weeks may have cost us a last chance to have this discussion, there was plenty of time to schedule a dedicated work session with all parties prior to the onset of the current situation.
I hope addressing these challenges will remain a priority when operations return to normal so we can work together on effective long-term solutions to these issues.
As expected, the same old “siding with developers” indictment echoes around our county today in the wake of our CB-1 vote last night. It’s been one of the most beloved narratives used to divide people at the local level for generations. And with the decline of informative news coverage and rise of social media, facts and critical thinking gradually fade from the debate. Ironically, that elusive work session dedicated to this issue, at which all of us could have heard the same facts and collaborated around the same solutions, would have greatly benefited the public as well.
Of those who believe a vote against CB-1 was “siding with developers,” what’s your definition of a developer? Is it the big companies that buy large properties, subdivide them and build dozens of homes or hundreds of apartments? If one group does the land and another builds the homes, are they both developers? Does it include someone who subdivides a small property for 4-5 houses or even a property owner who divides and sells one lot from their own property? Who are these “developers” that apparently control so many of us? If “siding with developers” was my motivation, I had two previous opportunities to vote against this bill.
The fact is that nobody needs to “side with developers.” They are mobile and are the one entity in the process that can most control their own profit because they put deals together. They will survive in any environment.
I do “side with” property owners, engineers, plumbers, electricians, framers, drywall finishers, painters, roofers, tile and flooring guys and the businesses who sell all the materials. I do consider the taxes, school surcharges, transfer taxes and permit fees this activity generates. And heading into an economic downturn with development activity already far below all projections is not the time to further threaten these jobs, our local businesses and the county’s fiscal health. If that’s “siding with developers,” I’ll accept that.
How many of you with such strong opinions even know the number of projects in the APFO waiting bin and how many housing units they represent? There are 7 projects in their final waiting bin year. Of the 19 total applications in the APFO bin, 9 are for less than 4 homes (more than half are for 1 home). Should those property owners need to wait longer than the already 5-plus year approval process? Another 8 new neighborhoods are between 5 and 17 homes. Is 5-plus years long enough for the school system to plan for them? Is there any waiting period long enough for a 208-unit apartment building if it pushes the schools far over the target range? Would letting any of these smaller proposals proceed be merely “siding with developers” or is changing two words in a complex section of code the only way to not “side with developers”?
What’s the school system’s role in these solutions? What ideas has it proffered to increase capacity without massive capital projects? Would an extra two years really yield a different result? I’ve tried for three months to get the County Council, DPZ and HCPSS in the same room for a thorough work session dedicated to this issue. I could have voted against this bill 2 months ago but kept pushing for the work session. I know parts of this system do not work and want to find a balanced approach to fixing it. Hopefully the few that need this conflict to fuel their Facebook comments, Twitter feeds and political wars will let us do that.
I checked Facebook and I have found no posts from Councilmembers Jones, Rigby or Jung on this topic.
I like Councilmember Yungmann but I disagree with him on this vote. I rarely if ever agree with every elected official on every vote they make while in office. As a news and information blogger I will share information and my opinions about that information. Sometimes I will agree with how elected officials vote and other times I will not. That fact will not change my opinion of an elected official.
By sharing the information from elected officials that have decided to inform their followers on social media hopefully gives my readers a picture form all sides on this issue as it stands today.