Mea­sure to up the ca­pac­ity in schools nixed

Com­mis­sion halts changes that would grow home de­vel­op­ment

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­news.com

The Calvert County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion halted plans to in­crease the thresh­old for ca­pac­ity in Calvert County Pub­lic Schools by 10 per­cent at its Sept. 19 meet­ing.

With the Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers’ bless­ing, Department of Plan­ning and Zon­ing staff pre­sented pro­posed changes to county regu- la­tions that align res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment ap­proval to the avail­abil­ity of pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

Deputy Zon­ing Di­rec­tor Mary Beth Cook pro­posed the change to in­crease the ad­e­quate ca­pac­ity thresh­old from 100 to 110 per­cent, based upon school sys­tem staff’s ob­ser­va­tion

that the schools can op­er­ate at the higher ca­pac­ity with­out com­pro­mis­ing ef­fi­ciency. Cook said in 1988 the thresh­old was set to 110 per­cent and then re­duced to 100 per­cent in 2001.

“I can’t see this one,” plan­ning board mem­ber James Toohey said. “I’d like to leave it at 100 per­cent, frankly.”

In re­sponse to an ear­lier ques­tion from Toohey on the im­pe­tus for re­duc­ing the ca­pac­ity in 2001, county long-range plan­ner Jenny Plum­mer-Welker read an ex­cerpt from a March 2001 let­ter from former plan­ning board of­fi­cial John Ward that stated that schools can have an in­ad­e­quate ca­pac­ity up to 110 per­cent and sub­di­vi­sions still could be recorded. The plan­ning com­mis­sion at that time rec­om­mended ca­pac­ity should be 100 per­cent and should be viewed as full when at that thresh­old.

Plum­mer-Welker said that was at a time when the county was build­ing a school per year and the growth rate was much higher. Plum­mer-Welker said in dis­cus­sions with Schu­chita Warner, di­rec­tor of school con­struc­tion, that the schools have enough space to ac­com­mo­date more than 100 per­cent and that the ad­di­tional 10 per­cent “would be all right in their in­stance.”

In an ear­lier in­ter­view with The Calvert Recorder, Calvert County Pub­lic Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dan Curry con­firmed he and Warner did tell county staff that in­creas­ing the ca­pac­ity thresh­old would not be a detri­ment to the schools, but they did not ad­vo­cate for the change.

Cur­rently, three Calvert pub­lic schools are over ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the Department of Plan­ning and Zon­ing’s 2018 Ad­e­quate Pub­lic Fa­cil­i­ties Re­port for Schools. All lo­cated in the north­ern end of the county, Beach Ele­men­tary’s en­roll­ment is at 106 per­cent, Mt. Har­mony Ele­men­tary is at 110.1 per­cent and North­ern High is at 115 per­cent. Plans are un­der­way for both Beach and North­ern to be re­placed with larger fa­cil­i­ties. If the school ca­pac­ity thresh­old change is ap­proved, de­vel­op­ment could in­crease in north­ern Calvert.

“With the limit be­ing 100 per­cent, which it cur­rently is, they still some­how man­age to creep up 10 per­cent over the limit or about 130 stu­dents for a high school. So, we put it to 110 per­cent, the limit, and it crept up an­other 10 per­cent over that, which is now at 11 per­cent. We’d be at 250, al­most 300 stu­dents over the limit on schools like that. See be­fore we would even make an at­tempt to slow it down,” Toohey calculated.

Toohey was not the only per­son in op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal. Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Chair Greg Kern gave Prince Fred­er­ick res­i­dent James Win­ship an op­por­tu­nity to ex­press his con­cerns.

“This is an ac­tion that has leg­isla­tive and pol­icy in­tent [and] im­me­di­ately has an im­pact,” Win­ship said, ex­press­ing what he termed a se­ri­ous pro­ce­dural con­cern.

Win­ship said the pro­posal is a ma­jor pol­icy change for ev­ery school in the county and while there may have been con­sul­ta­tion with the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion staff, there has not been com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the school board mem­bers, teach­ers, par­ent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tions or res­i­dents.

“Es­sen­tially, we’re very quickly mov­ing to­ward a sit­u­a­tion where we’re leg­is­lat­ing for the school board and where we’re not giv­ing ad­e­quate pub­lic con­sid­er­a­tions,” Win­ship added.

Win­ship sug­gested county staff should not limit them­selves to talk­ing to de­vel­op­ers, but speak to real es­tate agents who sell qual­ity of life and qual­ity of schools.

“This is a pro­ce­dure that en­dan­gers the very thing we say we’re try­ing to sell and pro­tect … this is bury­ing a dra­matic change in pol­icy,” Win­ship con­cluded.

Plum­mer-Welker said the BOCC has over­sight “for the record­ing of sub­di­vi­sions or the ap­proval of town­houses and apart­ment de­vel­op­ment. The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion is re­spon­si­ble for the en­roll­ment and the en­roll­ment dis­tricts,” or what ar­eas serve a par­tic­u­lar school and whether or not the bound­ary lines are re­drawn.

“If a fam­ily moves into an empty sin­gle-fam­ily house, there’s noth­ing that says it’s at 115 per­cent and you can’t go there,” Plum­mer-Welker said.

“So, no mat­ter what num­ber we put on it, it’s not go­ing to change, cor­rect?” Deputy Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Chair Steve Jones asked, to which Plum­mer-Welker said it only af­fects the record­ing of new sub­di­vi­sions.

Plum­mer-Welker re­ported the rated ca­pac­i­ties of the re­main­ing three high schools as Hunt­ing­town at 90.2 per­cent en­roll­ment, Calvert at 89.8 per­cent and Patux­ent at 87.7 per­cent, per the county’s spring 2018 AFP re­port.

“There’s no need to in­crease it to 110 un­less you adopt the com­pre­hen­sive plan, which blows open de­vel­op­ment by en­larg­ing the town cen­ters and al­low­ing sewer poli­cies,” Port Repub­lic res­i­dent and former county plan­ner Miriam Gholl said.

Staff also pro­posed mak­ing ed­its to APF reg­u­la­tions to cor­rect two gram­mat­i­cal er­rors and to cor­rect an omis­sion made when the num­ber of res­i­den­tial lots for mi­nor sub­di­vi­sions changed from five to seven.

“The first three lots are au­to­mat­i­cally ex­empt from ad­e­quate pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties,” Cook said. “If some­one is will­ing to com­mit their land [even though] they could do a ma­jor sub­di­vi­sion — and they com­mit to do­ing a mi­nor sub­di­vi­sion — we ex­empt them from ad­e­quate pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.”

Toohey en­tered a mo­tion that would only for­ward for pub­lic com­ment and agency re­view the ed­i­to­rial cor­rec­tions, leav­ing the cur­rent ca­pac­ity thresh­old at 100 per­cent. The mo­tion passed with Maria Buehler the only plan­ning mem­ber vot­ing against the mo­tion.

Buehler, a small busi­ness owner in St. Leonard, has pre­vi­ous ties to the Small Busi­ness In­ter­est Group, a group that ad­vo­cates for the con­cerns of busi­nesses and sup­ports growth in the county.

SCREEN GRAB OF CALVERT COUNTY GOV­ERN­MENT VIDEO

“I can’t see this one,” Calvert County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion board mem­ber James Toohey said about a pro­posal to in­crease the thresh­old for ca­pac­ity in Calvert County Pub­lic Schools.

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