Thursday, June 01, 2006

Food for thought...

I don't have time to get into this now, but the Post has an interesting story about an interesting study just released by the University of Maryland. I hope to get a chance to read the study sometime soon, but for now, here are a few choice excerpts from the story.

The study, conducted by the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, was sponsored by two builders groups and was made public last month. It examined the adequate public facilities ordinances, or APFOs, which are meant to discourage urban sprawl, and found that heavy reliance on them can create more sprawl.

...Used properly as one tool among many in the complex planning process, such laws can shape growth in a community so that the strains -- such as traffic jams, crowded classrooms and inadequate open space -- are minimized. But if the laws are used too rigidly, they can deflect growth from an area deemed a priority for more development -- because of its existing roads, schools and utilities -- to areas farther away from urban establishments, the study found.

"This was a tool that was designed with the hope that development would not get out ahead of the infrastructure needed to support it. It was designed as sort of a test," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a group that supports managed growth. "But the problem in my mind is that this test has ended up being the tail that wags the dog."

...The recent study, which was sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Maryland and the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, focused on Howard, Montgomery and Harford counties, examining the laws' effects on new housing in a three-year period. It concluded that APFOs sometimes have been inappropriately used and are in conflict with the state's "smart growth" land-use policies. As much as 10 percent of the new housing contemplated in high-priority growth areas in those counties simply moved elsewhere because of the APFOs. As a result, the available housing stock was reduced and home prices were pushed up.

"In short, APFOs appear to be fueling the same pattern of development the state's Smart Growth policy is intended to curtail," the study says.

Now, I know you can point to the fact that this study was funded by developers as it's glaring weakness. But the findings are actually pretty intuitive -- at least to me -- and dismissing it because of its funding source adds little to this important discussion. There are real benefits and real costs associated with APFOs, and unless we understand both, we're not doing a good job of planning for our future.

I'll have more to say about this soon. Here's a link to the UMD Center for Smart Growth, where you can find the study in .pdf format.


Anonymous said...

That report is quite interesting. After a quick review, it states that Howard County APFO only takes into consideration roads and schools, while other jurisdictions take into consideration sewer, water, and fire, police and rescue services. This probably needs to be updated. Another nugget is that the HoCo APFO may have resulted in diverting up to 10% of growth away from the HoCo priority funding areas, resulting in the loss of rural land. It is my understanding that the Wilde Lake Village Board "Wilde Lake Town Center Task Force" (has anybody heard of this? who are these people? what are they doing?) is looking into the APFO issue and the above mentioned study. I sure hope they publicize when their next meeting is, so that folks can join the discussion.

Peace and Love my Friend

Anonymous said...

Grow. Build. Grow. Build. It can't be ad infinitum.

APFO provides a safety valve for the County to at least catch up when road and school capacity is insufficient for additional population in that neighborhood/school district. Otherwise, roads become unsafe for the existing population due to overcrowding and schools become less able to adequately teach because of higher student/teacher ratios, etc.

APFO does not provide a permanent block to new development, just a 4-year at best delay so the County has the opportunity to build the necessary infrastructure.

Yes, the results of up-to-4-year delays may be to increase costs for existing homes due to more competition and to spur development elsewhere where facilities are adequate. Good. Safety and quality of life for existing residents shouldn't be sacrificed for developers' profit expediency and the convenience of those folks who showed up yesterday wanting to enjoy our less-crowded roads and less-crowded schools.

Take away APFO from Howard County and what do you have? A county that will very quickly have even more congested roads and even more overcrowded schools.

To claim that APFOs are in conflict with "smart growth" seems ludicrous.

Anonymous said...

Reading the report, I see that every county around Howard County (AA, Balt, Mont., PG) all have APFOs that cover schools/roads/water/sewer (and some of them have other services, too) while Howard's APFO only covers schools/roads. Maybe Howard County's APFO should be expanded to also include water and sewer, too?

Also, from page 20 of the report:

"In looking specifically at the effect APFOs have had on residential housing in Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties, we concluded that over a three-year period, APFOs were responsible for deflecting as much as 10 percent of the new homes that would have been constructed within the PFAs of those counties."

The authors provide no explanation as to how they concluded 10% of homes that could have been built in these counties were deflected by APFOs. And it's unclear what they mean - did each county have 10% deflected or was the overall average 10%? So, the 10% number is hard to trust and may be a lot less or a lot more in any of those counties, including Howard.


"It is impossible to say precisely where this deflected growth moved, but it is safe to assume that most if not all of the deflected growth was simply built elsewhere."

Safe to assume? Why make an assertion in what's supposed to be an authoritative report if it's an assumption? Worse yet, this assertion was reiterated elsewhere in their report, without any nearby qualification that it was merely an assumption, and combined with the nebulous 10% value to boot (the portion you clipped in your original post "As much as 10 percent of the new housing contemplated in high-priority growth areas in those counties simply moved elsewhere because of the APFOs").

A few of the report's more questionable recommendations for General Assembly state-wide legislation that will supercede local county APFO protections -

"Permit local governments to establish Special Tax Districts or TIF districts to raise funds for needed facilities"

(More taxes, concentrated on small areas, to accelerate developers getting to build. Ouch.)

"Waive APFO requirements on certain workforce housing and affordable housing, infill or revitalization projects within PFAs;"

(PFAs, by their very nature, incur a lot of infill development. This could be a huge get-out-of-APFO card to play.)

"... Prepare and publish a report every two years identifying facilities within PFAs that do not meet local APFO standards..."

(Currently, I believe Howard County puts the cost burden on the developer to measure adequacy of just roads/intersections near a proposed development. This seems to not only transfer that cost to the taxpayer, but also make the taxpayer pay for it to be repeatedly done all over the PFA, greatly increasing the cost.)

"The State of Maryland should create an infrastructure financing program for growth areas that would be used for infrastructure improvements within PFAs."

(More tax money to accelerate developers getting to build. Getting the picture yet?)

"Moreover, a match from the local government would be required."

(Still more tax money to accelerate developers getting to build.)

"If a new state infrastructure fund is created according to Recommendation 3 above, a portion of the monies allocated for the fund each year – perhaps 1 percent – should be set aside for a public education campaign focused on the cost of sprawl, the need to provide adequate facilities in growth areas, and the benefits of Smart Growth ..."

(We need to pay more taxes for propaganda.)

"a portion of the money should be set aside as a special fund to assist with improvements needed to meet APFO requirements related to State facilities. This latter requirement should become a required element of the Consolidated Transportation Program."

(Some of the additional taxes collected will pay for State highway construction, too?)

"The State needs to identify broad-base tax resources (e.g., property, sales or income tax revenue) to provide the fiscal resources necessary to fund Adequate Public Facilities in growth areas. This will enable local governments to reduce their dependence on impact fees and the local property tax, thereby preventing new home buyers from bearing a disproportionate share of the costs of new infrastructure."

(Elevate taxpayer. Hold by ankles. Invert. Shake.)

"The Interagency Committee for School Construction should increase its square footage funding allowance for the renovation of school facilities located in, or serving students residing in, PFAs."

(Either that Committee's funding from taxes will need to increase or schools not serving PFAs will get less funding.)

Reading that report just makes me believe the General Assembly need do nothing and should let the Counties continue their individual APFO programs as they have.

Anonymous said...

I read the report and it doesn't have the facts straight about Howard County's APFO. It says APFO can delay a project 9 years - not true. It also misunderstands the school capacity cap. It says an average of 10% of units "go elsewhere" - but it doesn't say the 10% goes to the rural west. It goes outside of HC or in other areas in the PSA that are not shut down. Well, of course - that IS the purpose of APFO, after all. In addition HC's APFO works in conjunction with the allocations cap which the study does not take into account. I though the study was not very impressive.

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