Board ponders school capacity
Property rights and challenges explored
The Calvert County Planning Commission’s review of a winter report detailing the capacity thresholds of public schools in the county spurred dialogue on pitfalls, property rights and the potential for litigation Dec. 19.
The Nov. 1 Adequate Public Facilities Report for Schools, which compared school enrollments to APF rated capacities, revealed that Mt. Harmony Elementary (110.1 percent) and Northern High (100.4 percent) were deemed to have inadequate APF capacities. APFs are regulations that tie residential development approval to the availability of schools and roads.
“With the opening of Northern High School, the prospect of having the northern end of the county open again, what would happen if Mt. Harmony continues this way where it is full and it exceeds capacity not with people indigenous to that [catchment] area, but people are being permitted to go there by convenience?” planning commission member Richard Holler asked.
The Northern High School replacement building will open to students Jan. 3.
Holler also asked about the potential for property owners who want to develop a site on their land for a child.
“Is that person going to be denied the right to use their property because the school is artificially full?” Holler asked.
“Yes, the children from that family could fall into those school rolls, and there wouldn’t be the checks and balances of” APF, planning commission attorney John Mattingly said.
Mattingly said most family conveyances fall outside the APF argument because they deal with less than seven lots, and a minor subdivision is not applicable.
Holler asked if a developer of a subdivision would be impacted
by schools that are “artificially” at capacity.
Mattingly said developers would be told they cannot build because the county has inadequate public facilities.
“If they are held up for seven years, it is automatically approved,” Mattingly said. “Then the school would have to absorb it.”
“If we really meant to have no growth at all, we could simply restructure the districts or work out an arrangement like this where people from another district would be attending schools and they would be full. I think there’s a question about property rights there,” Holler said, deferring the latter to Mattingly’s expertise.
Mattingly said some other jurisdictions have imposed a 12-month moratorium on overcrowded schools to give a
school system a year to matriculate another class forward to avoid stepping on someone’s property rights.
“There’s no perfect solution when you’re dealing with that,” Mattingly said.
Holler said having developers wait five years or more has not been tested in the courts, and he believes Florida set the prec-
“We just selected seven years and nobody challenged us. I always kind of held my breath that sooner or later somebody somewhere in Maryland is going to challenge that kind of arbitrariness,” Holler said.
Mattingly said that length of time was picked as a compromise and has not been chal-
“But to allow someone to go beyond adequate public facilities just because their project has been stalled for seven years generally challenges that nature comes from the anti-development side,” Mattingly said.
On Sept. 18, the former Calvert County Board of Commissioners proposed text amendments to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that would have increased the threshold for capacity in Calvert’s schools by 10 percent, opening the door for more development in northern Calvert. The commissioners also proposed an amendment to the county zoning ordinance to reduce the length of time for maximum delay for final approval of residential subdivisions or residential development, from seven to six years.
The next day, the planning board shot down the BOCC’s plans to increase the schools’ threshold for capacity, preventing the measure from going
forward to a joint public hearing. However, the planning commission did approve the change to the time period for the maximum delay for final approval of a residential subdivision or development to six years.
The proposal to reduce the length of time for maximum delay along with an editorial change to the number of residential lots for minor subdivisions from five to seven proceeded to a joint public hearing Nov. 27 between the two boards, where both amendments were approved.
At the December planning commission meeting, Chairman Greg Kernan suggested the next time the report is on the planning board’s agenda, a representative from Calvert’s public schools be present. The next report is due April 1.
To see the winter report in its entirety, go to www.co.cal. md. us/ DocumentCenter/ View/21399.
Planning commission member Richard Holler, left, questions the impact of “artificially” full schools during Dec. 19 meeting. Commission member Steve Toohey and planner Rachel O’Shea listen in, as planning attorney John Mattingly, right, prepares to answer.