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Development Industry Skeptical About MoCo Growth Rules

Raquel Montenegro, a lobbyist for the Maryland Building and Industry Association, is one of the lucky ones. Her commute is six minutes each way. By car. Door to door from her house to her office in Silver Spring.

So she has a, shall we say, unique perspective, on efforts to encourage more use of public transportation, a key component of new growth rules approved yesterday by Montgomery County's planning board and sent to the County Council

"Will I resign fom my job when that commute which is six minutes turns into 15? Or is my tolerance until it becomes 30 minutes?" Who, she wonders, is "the arbiter of quality of life?"

The board, whose recommendations must be further vetted by the council, has devised a string of tests to measure traffic jams, school crowding and other factors that might compel developers and builders to help reduce congestion before being allowed to add new homes.

Montenegro is also concerned that new development alone will be being saddled with higher taxes, but isn't responsible for all new growth, since infill development in older neighborhoods is on the rise, and existing houses turn over from time to time.

A plan to increase the county's recordation tax, which buyers and sellers pay when they close a real estate deal, was dropped last week by the planning board. But Montenegro said the turnover of homes in older neighborhoods, where empty nesters are replaced by residents with school-age children, should be part of the mix.

"The recordation tax recognizes that people who are buying a house have an impact on the neighborhood and on the system and on the infrastructure," she said. "You can't look at the recordation tax to fix everything but at least it acknowledges the impact churn has and helps make those homeowners part of the solution."

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) had urged the board to scuttle the increase in the recordation tax, which is still one of the region's highest. He said a further jump would make it more difficult for new homebuyers to try to buy their first homes. Realtors also had said an increase would further depress a slow housing market.

The debate is probably just beginning. The council, which according to many observers is sharply divided on the growth policy, will begin formal debate on Monday. It could be several weeks before any consensus is reached. The deadline is mid-November, when the current rules expire.

Critics have said that the current growth policy, revised four years ago and reaffirmed in 2005, have led to sprawl and congestion that is likely to be felt for decades.

By Miranda Spivack  |  September 28, 2007; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  Miranda Spivack  
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