The Capital: “Bill to slow development near crowded Annapolis schools up for vote”

Capital Gazette: July 20, 2016

By: Chase Cook, Capital Gazette reporter

The Annapolis City Council will vote Monday to reduce residential development near crowded schools, most notably Tyler Heights Elementary.

The Adequate Public Facilities bill would lock residential development when nearby schools hit capacity. Developers would have to pay for improvements or wait up to six years for the school to have room. Amendments that weaken the legislation have been proposed.

Supporters of the bill believe slowing development near crowded schools will help those schools deal with incoming students and limit outdoor portable classrooms. Opponents don’t believe new residential development contributes enough school children to be a problem.

Alderman Jared Littmann, D-Ward 5, one of the bill’s sponsors, believes the amendments will bridge the gap between the two sides while still closing a loophole. Anne Arundel County has a similar law that stops development at 100-percent capacity while Annapolis has never considered school crowding when approving developments under its adequate public facilities law.

“The legislation is not meant to solve the problem, but it does stop from making it worse,” Littmann said. “It will then put the focus on permanent solutions.”

The bill’s original language would have capped development at 100-percent capacity for high schools and elementary schools, as does county law. If the amendments are approved, thresholds are increased to 110 percent for elementary schools and 120 percent for high schools.

The bill grandfathers current developments that have received adequate public facility approval from the city.

Littmann is confident the bill will pass Monday. Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, and Mayor Mike Pantelides are also sponsors.

The bill was introduced on July 13, 2015. Public hearings and delays pushed the bill further back on the calendar.

Parents attended City Council meetings urging the council to pass the legislation so their children wouldn’t have to deal with overcrowded classrooms. Tyler Heights Elementary has long been touted as an example of overcrowded classrooms as the school sits at about 134 percent over capacity — September 2015 enrollment numbers show 593 students enrolled, compared to a capacity of 442, according to school data.

Developer representatives pushed back, stating the city’s growth has not been fast or large enough to have a significant impact on the schools. Using Anne Arundel County student generation numbers, new city developments have contributed about 35 students since 2012, developers argued.

Philip Dales, a representative for developers, said the city should consider cutting the high school threshold completely as it could potentially stall development in the entire city since all city schools feed into it.

“It is reasonable for us to have a (law) that includes school capacity as long as it allows us to adjust where development is permitted rather than (forbid) it in the city as a whole,” Dales said.

To bridge the gap between developers, city and education officials, a work group was created of aldermen, business and education officials. The deadline for its recommendations is Friday, and a draft of the report has been released to the City Council, said Amalie Brandenburg, Anne Arundel County education officer and work group organizer.

“A lot of the same recommendations were coming from each group,” she said.

Arnett doesn’t think the report will have a relevant impact on the city’s decision. Arnett, who was one of the aldermen in the work group, thought the group focused too much on the county’s adequate public facilities law — not the city’s.

This law will help with school crowding, but the problem won’t be solved until the county school system considers redistricting, he said.

“(The work group) was a total waste of time, as we knew it would be,” Arnett said. “The city was an afterthought.”

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