Mayor and Aldermen Cave to Developers in Eviscerating School Overcrowding Ordinance

City leaders say gutted law addresses school overcrowding, but actually voted to make sure the law does nothing to impede future developments

“Promises made, promises kept,” Mayor Pantelides wrote in his July 2016 Newsletter. “I told Annapolitans when I was campaigning for office that I would address overcrowding in area schools and this bill ensures that a school capacity test is included in our development application process for the first time in the city’s history. The goal of this ordinance is to ensure that the capacity of the elementary, middle, and high schools can support additional students before an application is approved.”

Alderman Littmann was the prime sponsor of the law and worked unsuccessfully to defend the bill against gutting amendments. He fought such amendments championed by developers and promoted by the mayor, Alderwoman Finlyason and Alderman Kirby, who all worked to delay, weaken or kill the bill. Eventually Alderman Littmann supported the emaciated nothingburger that passed, and joined in declaring it as “a great step in the right direction…I’m pleased that the City is now responsible for its actions when it approves new residential development.”

WHAT A SHAM AND SHAME!

Please don’t be fooled by the mayor and alderman’s declarations and obvious pandering on school overcrowding being added to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) passed by the City Council on July 25. In reality, the law has been so significantly amended from the county law it originally tracked, it does almost nothing to address school overcrowding from new developments in the City. As usual, developers and their attorneys had their way with the mayor and a majority of council members in gaining amendments to the original ordinance so that it is hard to find one new development that will be affected by the law. The result will be a decade’s long continuation of the City thumbing their nose at the County and allowing new residential development to proceed adding more students to already overcrowded schools, including Hillsmere Elementary and Annapolis High which have 6 and 8 portable trailer classrooms, respectively.

While this legislation adds a weak school capacity test in the development process, the law was stripped of stricter standards originally in it that would have paralleled the decades old county law. The City’s law will do little to actually address school overcrowding thanks to the amendments that were pushed through at the urging of developers and their attorneys.

Instead of restricting development when schools are at 100 percent capacity (as the County has done for decades), the council raised the capacity thresholds in the City’s law to 105 percent for elementary/middle schools and 120 percent for Annapolis High School. The mayor and council members totally disregarded a special work group’s unanimous rejection of increasing school capacity levels above 100 percent. This work group was approved by the mayor and appointed by him and the county executive to examine the issue while the City allowed a bad situation to get worse, threatening the quality of our children’s education.

With the higher thresholds in the city law, schools like Hillsmere Elementary and Annapolis High that are currently closed to new development in the county will still be open to city developments and more students will be pushed into portable outdoor trailers. This conveniently allows the 130 non-age restricted homes at Crystal Spring to meet the schools test when they would have been restricted under county law. In fact, this legislation will not affect any of the proposed developments in the city, including the 18 developments currently in the pipeline along Forest Drive. It does not appear that any new developments in the near future would be affected either as there would have to be 11 new units proposed where the feeder elementary school would be 105 percent or more overcapacity and the areas around these feeder schools are already densely developed.

The most offensive part of the mayor’s message is that he did all he could to delay and weaken this legislation at every turn, as did Alderwoman Finlayson. On the day of passage, they voted for at least two last-minute poison-pill amendments that would have completely eviscerated the already weakened ordinance. In the video below from the July 25 meeting, the mayor says that while the legislation isn’t perfect, it is a good solution to help slow down overcrowding. Shortly after, he voted to raise the threshold for elementary and middle schools to 110 percent and exempt the high school altogether. How does this qualify as keeping his promise to address school overcrowding?

Other council members, led by Finlayson, who voted for these amendments are listed below. If Mayor Pantelides and members of the City Council are going to continue to allow deep-pocketed developers who don’t even live here to run our town and influence our laws, they need to know we are not going to remain silent and allow them to scam the public. To see the full video of the July 25 City Council meeting, please click here.

Voted Yes to Change Capacity Threshold for Elementary/Middle Schools from 105% to 110%:
– Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, Ward 4 (proposed this amendment)
– Mayor Mike Pantelides
– Alderman Kenneth Kirby, Ward 6

Voted Yes to Exempt the High School from the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance:
– Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, Ward 4 (proposed this amendment)
– Mayor Mike Pantelides
– Alderman Kenneth Kirby, Ward 6
– Alderman Ian Pfeiffer, Ward 7

Worse than taking no action at all is passing an emaciated, meaningless school overcrowding ordinance and then the mayor and aldermen pandering to the public as if the legislation does anything meaningful to resolve this decades old problem. The truth is that the practice of the City ignoring school overcrowding, especially when annexing large tracts of land from the County and allowing massive developments on those properties, will continue unabated.

One thought on “Mayor and Aldermen Cave to Developers in Eviscerating School Overcrowding Ordinance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *