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Howard Bikeshare Program, APFO Review, Budget Advance in April

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Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman’s (R) proposal to merge the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) with the Department of Citizen Services (DCS) did not come to fruition in April.

Instead, the Howard County Council unanimously passed an amendment that basically leaves the current structure untouched, with the exception of granting the Housing Commission the ability to hire its own executive director. That position is currently the function of the director of DHCD.

The council approved a Zoning Regulation Amendment that significantly reduces the amount of commercial space required in the Corridor Activity Center zoning district. The change was sought by Atapco Howard Square I Business Trust, which claimed the requirement was too high for commercial viability.

Councilmembers Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) and Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) voted against the change.

“We’re already adulterating what was originally intended … it’s a continuation of that dangerous removal of commercial and adding of residential,” Fox said. “It’s a cheap way for the developer [to be] getting out of the requirements.”

The council also approved a bill that requires the Environmental Sustainability Board to review reports commissioned by the Howard County Public School System relating to mold in county public schools.

Let It Roll

In late April, the county executive announced a collaborative alliance that will create a pilot bikeshare program in Columbia. The program will consist of seven bikeshare stations with 70 bicycles serving the Columbia Lakefront, The Mall in Columbia, the new Crescent development, Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College, Oakland Mills Village Center and Blandair Park.

“Bikeshare has proven to be a key element in creating a vibrant downtown environment,” said Kittleman. “It’s a healthy, modern transportation option that is a great fit for our denser, more urban areas. We have seen the success of Capital Bikeshare in the Washington region, and we expect similar results here in Howard County.”

The county will solicit proposals from potential vendors this summer, and the system is expected to launch in the spring or summer of 2017. The county has committed to operating the pilot program for at least six years, Kittleman said, at which time an evaluation of its success will determine whether it will be continued or expanded.

Partner affiliates in the program include The Horizon Foundation, Columbia Association, Howard Hughes Corp., Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College and General Growth Properties.

Additionally, the council approved the county’s Bicycle Master Plan and Complete Streets policy in April and voted to leave plans to construct a bicycle network connector path through the Allview community intact, rather than seek a realignment along Broken Land Parkway.

Terrasa cast the lone vote in favor of the realignment, citing a history of concern raised by the community regarding flooding issues along the proposed pathway.

APFO Review

Last month, the task force studying the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) submitted a 24-page report to the county executive.

Kittleman said he would carefully review all task force recommendations before making any decisions about changes, some of which might require legislation and review before the county council.

The county executive established the APFO Review Task Force through an executive order because the ordinance had not been closely examined in more than 10 years.

“Our roads, schools and public facilities have to keep pace with our population growth, even though the rate is slower than when APFO first came about,” said Diane Mikulis, who led the task force. “Many people still want to purchase new homes in Howard County, so we recommended a change in the housing development approval process related to a modified schools test. It’s really all about balance.”

Other notable recommendations in the report include a requirement to convene a review committee at the conclusion of every General Plan cycle (every 10 years) at a minimum; exemption of Moderate Income Housing Units and certain age-restricted units from the allocations test; and exemption of Downtown Columbia from the 300-unit annual allocation limit for a single elementary school district if the school region within which the school district resides registers more than 100% capacity.

The full report and appendices are available at www.howardcountymd.gov.

Budget Submitted

Kittleman presented his $1.06 billion fiscal 2017 General Fund Operating Budget to the county council in April.

The budget includes $562.2 million for the public school system, $7.2 million above the required Maintenance of Effort level, and supports negotiated teacher pay raises, special education and 56 new teacher positions.

Other highlights include a pilot program to investigate the use of body cameras by police officers, $510,000 to support creation of a Nonprofit Center to help consolidate services, funding for 11 new buses in the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland’s fleet, $1.2 million for a new Automatic Vehicle Locator system that will replace the 15-year-old SnowPlowTracker system, and $150,000 for an Economic Development Investment Fund at the Maryland Center of Entrepreneurship to provide go-to-market capital for companies with promising technologies.

The council will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 4. The budget is also available for review on the aforementioned county website.

Election Update

Public dissatisfaction with the Howard County Public School System’s handling of a mold problem in public schools and controversy regarding the availability of public documents spilled into the voting booths in the April primary election.

Incumbent Howard County Board of Education members Ann DeLacy and Ellen Flynn Giles lost their bids for reelection, while incumbent board member Janet Siddiqui was among the top six candidates in the race to secure a spot on the general election ballot in November.

The other candidates who will be vying for three open seats on the school board include Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small, Mavis Ellis, Vicky Cutroneo and Robert Miller.