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Lia Russell

July 1, 2024

The Baltimore Sun

Developers hoping to build in Baltimore County will have to pay higher impact fees and surrender the money earlier in the building process, according to new legislation passed Monday by the County Council.

The council voted 6-0 to pass a law overhauling an earlier one that required developers to pay surcharges, known as impact fees, to offset the added burden placed upon nearby schools, sewers and roads. Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, was absent and did not vote.

Baltimore County has recouped very little from that law, due to amendments exempting most projects from paying fees, such as schools, senior housing, and homes already under construction. The law, which went into effect in 2019, was opposed by developers and industry groups like the Maryland Building Industry Association.

Last year, the county collected no impact fees, according to data provided by the planning board. Of the 687 building permits issued during that time, 666 were exempted from paying development fees. In 2022, it collected about $14,000 in fees, far short of the almost $6 million the county had expected to net.

The new law, sponsored by Council Chair Izzy Patoka on behalf of County Executive Johnny Olszewski, restructures the impact fees formula by charging $6 per square foot, instead of a flat 1.5% of a building’s gross sales price. The fees will also need to be paid going forward before obtaining a building permit, instead of before obtaining an occupancy permit.

Both Patoka and Olszewski are Democrats. Patoka is widely expected to run for County Executive if Olszewski wins election to Congress in November.

The new law could triple the amount of fees collected on a single property, according to a fiscal note included in the bill text. The law will go into effect in 45 days from Monday.

The new legislation does not address the amendments exempting most projects from paying impact fees. In an email, county spokesperson Erica Palmisano said the administration would defer to the council to address legislation to close those loopholes, which Patoka said he intended to do.

The impact fees legislation is the latest development-related legislation the council has considered this year as it grapples with Olszewski’s administration over who has final authority over land use in Baltimore County.

At the same meeting, the council voted to override Olszewski’s veto of an ordinance that would have curbed development in areas with overcrowded schools by requiring builders to obtain permission before building in such areas.

Olszewski blocked that rule last month, arguing that it would exacerbate a statewide housing shortage, which is particularly acute in the Baltimore region, by slowing development and styming the county’s efforts to comply with a federal mandate to build 1,000 units of affordable housing by 2027.

Most of Baltimore County, the state’s third-largest jurisdiction, is primarily zoned for single-family residential housing, according to the National Zoning Atlas, a digital collection of zoning regulations across the U.S.

Dr. Myriam Rogers, Baltimore County Public Schools’ superintendent, said at a June press conference with Olszewski that the school system had made “significant progress” to redistrict schools since 2020. That year, a council-appointed task force recommended the council adopt the rule, known as the adequate public facilities ordinance, to alleviate the burden of development upon overcrowded schools.

Since then, school and county officials have reduced the number of overburdened schools from 27 to 10, with future plans to either build additions to those remaining schools or build new schools, Rogers said.

Schools are considered overcrowded if they are 115% or more over their state-sanctioned capacity. The ordinance gradually reduces that criteria to 105%.

Patoka said Monday he would also introduce a bill to address Olszewski’s concerns with the makeup of a committee that will review developers’ requests to build in overcrowded areas.

In a statement issued after the council veto, Olszewski called Patoka’s new amending bill a “Band-Aid solution” and “convoluted approach” that underscored the original ordinance’s “flaws.”

“Nonetheless, we encourage the Council to use this ‘do-over’ as a renewed opportunity to engage with BCPS leadership and housing advocates to responsibly address school overcrowding while also meeting our moral and legal obligations to expand access to attainable housing,” he said.

Pat Young, a Catonsville Democrat who voted against the override, also criticized the legislative process: “The process of endorsing a product by overriding a veto on that product, and then having a piece of legislation that then changes that same product, does not follow a process that I’m familiar with.”

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