Measure to up the capacity in schools nixed
Commission halts changes that would grow home development
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.
“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.