Legislation & More
The General Plan
In 2023, Howard County is adopting its 10-year growth plan, called the General Plan. This policy document identifies where and how the County will grow to maintain healthy revenues. With little to no new land to spread into, Howard County is poised to grow up through redevelopment of existing residential and commercial properties. Proposals include reconsiderations of environmental regulations that buffer buildings from natural spaces. As the Council considers the General Plan, I will keep the beauty of the Patuxent River forefront in my mind so that we continue to protect such sensitive and important places in our County.
My LegislationExpand All
My most recent legislative focus has been to improve the County's Aging-in-Place policies in order to help seniors stay in their homes. I sponsored two Aging-in-Place bills during my first term.
The final amended version of my most recent bill, CB52-2022, provides a 20% tax credit calculated on an assessed home value up to $650,000 to seniors who have lived in their homes for 30 years or more. The credit is available for eight years. Seniors who received the Aging-in-Place credit prior to 2022 and who timed out in 2022 received the credit retroactively for that tax year.
Here's is an overview of my bill's proposed changes to the tax credit and the final vote outcomes:
- remove the five-year limit on those receiving the tax credit. Failed
- increase the amount of assessed home value upon which the tax is calculated from $500,000 to $650,000. Passed
- reduce the number of years seniors have resided in their homes in order to qualify for the credit. CB23-2021 changed it from 40 to 35 years. CB 52-2022 reduced it to 30 years. Passed
Happy & Healthy Forever Homes
The Aging-in-Place tax credit was crafted from State and Federal initiatives to enhance the well being of seniors by keeping them in their long-time homes and engaged in their communities. Studies show that aging residents who maintain these social connections are healthier and happier because they can continue to contribute to their communities. Seniors are vital to our non-profits, homeowners associations, County Boards, and the “institutional knowledge” of the area.
Liveability for the Golden Years
By 2035, 20% (70,000 people) of Howard County’s population will be aged 65 and over. According to AARP’s livability score for seniors, Howard County is a 60 out of a 100 scale and ranks 35 in the housing category with housing costs and housing cost burdens significantly higher than the 2022 US neighborhood median.
US median 16.3%
Howard County 25.5%
Senior advocates recognize the benefits and affordability of aging in place along with the disparities between retirement incomes and housing costs and view tax credits along with other supports as crucial protections.
Every year in North America, an estimated one billion birds are fatally injured due to collisions with transparent and reflective glass windows. In March 2020, I sponsored CB11, which requires bird-safe building design of private commercial and public buildings. The legislation passed with a four-to-one vote. Howard County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to adopt this standard. Bird-friendly design standards reduce bird collisions by up to 90% and produce energy savings as well.
Is it a Forest or a Window?
Howard County is a stopover for hundreds of migratory bird species, including songbirds. Many of these birds, landing in unfamiliar territory to forage or rest, are unaware of their surroundings and are unable to perceive translucent or reflective glass as impassable areas, leading to fatal collisions. Most collisions occur in the early morning and scavenging animals feed on the injured birds prior to human observation. The most dangerous areas of these types of buildings are from the ground floor to about the fourth story.
The issue of bird collisions came to my attention thanks to a Lego Robotics Team, consisting of fourth graders who researched ways to reduce bird strikes for their competition project. At the time of this legislation, those students were rising eighth graders and team member Felix Baum testified in favor of the bill. Mark Southerland, with Safe Skies Maryland, helped connect the scientists and the lawmakers on this issue.
Buildings that are designed with less reflective and transparent glass can significantly reduce bird strikes. Other bird-safe building practices include dimming or reducing outdoor lighting on buildings; altering landscaping; adding shutters, screens, and awnings; or using patterned or etched glass.
My bill requires new buildings to use LEED Pilot Credit #55. This standard scores the building's threat level for bird strikes based on the percentage and type of the building's exterior materials within certain height ranges. Exterior lighting and fly-through features are also considered. The credit's scoring system provides design flexibility and cost considerations.
In 2019, I co-sponsored CB42, which updated the School Facilities Surcharge levied on new residential units for funding school construction projects. At the time, Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) was one of the fastest growing school systems in the State and there was an anticipated shortfall of $36 million in Capital funding every year for school construction. It was obvious that HCPSS couldn't redistrict their way out of overcrowded schools and that an increase in the School Facilities Surcharge would provide an infusion of funds to put students in seats and keep HCPSS competitive.
A new rate was determined by calculating the capital costs of the square footage for new residential units. Approximately 42% of the new students in HCPSS come from new construction and 58% from home resales.
Facts at a Glance
- The revenue generation of the pre-2019 surcharge rate was estimated to fall behind the annual debt service on school construction bonds by 2024.
- Debt service on school construction bonds ranges from $3.3 million to $7.6 million a year.
- HCPSS identified an approximate annual shortfall of $36 million in Capital need beyond County and State funding.
- In 2021, the new surcharge rate generated $9.4 million in revenue, covering the annual debt service of $6.46 million with a surplus of $3 million. In 2022, $16 million was collected, covering $5.9 million in debt service.
- Required a data collection report for the Forest Conservation Act (CR42).
- Updated the Forest Conservation Manual (CR12) and supported all of Councilmember Liz Walsh's tree bills (CR56, CB57 & CB66).
- Overrode the County Executive's veto of a bill expanding tree protections (CB78).
- Enabled the Hearing Examiner to act as the fact finder in Zoning Board cases (CB77).
- Removed the exemption for sole source contracts to pay their employees less than Howard County's Living Wage (CB76).
- Increased HCPSS FY22 Budget by $4 million to address the Health Fund deficit and Student Personnel Services.
- Increased $2.8 million for the HCPSS Capital Budget.
My Legislative Digest
My IssuesExpand All
Columbia was designed to be an inclusive community with low-income housing anchored near the older Village centers and a ring of diverse housing options, ranging from townhomes and condos to single family homes. But as the County grew with less deliberate emphasis on inclusivity, census data indicates that racial and economic segregation increased both Countywide and in Columbia. Land values, multifamily housing prohibitions, and private shared septic systems are among the contributors to the County's current concentrations of affluence and poverty.
Upholding Columbia's traditions, the County government continues to support affordable housing goals by constructing mixed-income apartment buildings mainly concentrated in Columbia. While this new approach to low-income housing is intended to deconcentrate poverty, it does not take into consideration the socioeconomic demographics of the assigned schools. If we are going to foster an inclusive community then we must consider school assignments alongside affordable housing discussions.
Four of Columbia’s high schools in the original Villages show achievement metrics that are reflective of the students’ socioeconomic status. Hammond, Long Reach, Wilde Lake, and Oakland Mills occupy the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to student achievement in the County and contain a disproportionate number of students in poverty.
The bars in the chart are test scores and other achievement metrics from the State report card and the line shows the number of students receiving Free and Reduced Meals. As the line increases, student achievement decreases. This chart tells us what we all know: student achievement is directly tied to socioeconomics. It also tells us that wealth is concentrating itself around certain schools.
In 2016, zoning and land-use legislation enabled the development of a high-density urban core in Downtown Columbia. A negotiated agreement (Developers Rights & Responsibilities Agreement) between Howard County and the developer resulted in a commitment of 900 affordable units to be developed. Four hundred of these are to be included in the developer’s new market-rate apartments and the remainder are the County’s obligation. The agreement requires the County to co-locate these housing projects with public amenities, including a cultural center and performance space, fire station, library, and transit center. Funds for debt service for these projects was supposed to come from the increase in tax revenue generated from the higher use and density of the land.
New or ongoing public projects in Downtown Columbia are reviewed and discussed each Budget period based on that year’s appropriation requests. Significant alterations to the original plan have occurred since the plan’s final adoption in 2016.
This project started out as a 100,000 square foot building within the Merriweather district with affordable housing on top. During the FY23 budget, the library was presented as a Business and Arts Education Center and estimated to cost $82 million. In FY24, it is proposed to be moved to the Lakefront. Affordable housing is no longer co-located, and the cost has soared to $144 million. Business is no longer a specific component of the space.
|Lakefront Library||Merriweather Library|
|$143 million total||$82.3 million total|
|$94 million building||$55.7 million building|
|$39 million garage||$5.1 million garage|
|$10 million surrounding park||$14.5 million other costs|
In the original plan, this site would host 100 affordable housing units owned by the Housing Commission. This year, the Council learned that the site will be transferred to Howard Hughes so that an exit ramp (the Jug handle) can be built from Route 29 to Little Patuxent Parkway. An adjacent parcel of land owned by the County will also be transferred.
New Cultural Center
The Council approved funding for Downtown Columbia’s first affordable housing and public amenity space, currently known as the Artists Flats (the housing component) and the New Cultural Center (the public amenity), in 2020. Per the legislation, the Downtown affordable housing component is to be co-located with a private dinner theater and additional public performance space on land that is currently privately owned.
The housing component will be constructed above the center and will have 87 affordable units. The first of Downtown Columbia’s public projects presented to the Council was originally estimated to cost for the building and the public portion of the garage and land. Costs have continued to rise and the new plan will shrink the building’s size and scope to meet the FY23 appropriation.
Since inception, the NCC has struggled to define a clear cultural purpose beyond rebuilding Toby’s Dinner Theater. The new proposal retains a blackbox theater, art gallery, and classroom for County use.
Space Split: The original plan had a split of 55% to 45% between Department of Recreation & Parks (DRP) and Toby’s usage. The new plan now has a 38% to 61% split.
Square footage: The original proposal was 135,814 square feet, and the new proposal is 90,846 square feet.
(Downtown Columbia, 174 mixed-income apartments)
|Cost Breakdown||Fall 2020||Spring 2022|
|Total uses of funds||$65,274,098||$71,603,673|
|Cost per unit||$375,138||$411,515|
Average sale price of a home in Columbia: $420,000
You can see from this table that the cost of just the housing component is $71 million as of spring 2022 and continues to increase. There have been multiple delays on the project. The housing portion of this project qualified for State and Federal tax credits that help offset the construction costs. Based on the total construction costs, the unit price averages about $411,515. This per unit cost is comparable to the sale price of an older townhome or condo in Columbia.
Banneker Fire Station
This building was to be rebuilt with more capacity and have 100 age-restricted, low-income apartments on top. The fire station was anticipated to cost $20 million. In this year’s budget we learned that the station is going to be relocated to Cedar Lane. We do not know about the status of the housing at the existing Banneker site or the cost of a relocated fire station. Transit Center The transit center needs to be relocated within the next 24 months to accommodate the date that is anticipated for the FLASH Bus Rapid Transit from Montgomery County to connect with Howard County. A number of years ago it was in the $12 million range. The preliminary design of the transit center has been pushed to FY 2031.
The planned improvements around South Entrance Road include a second westbound left turn lane at the Little Patuxent Parkway/Symphony Woods Road.
Electrification at the Local Level
The Council passed CB5-2023, requiring the County Executive to make recommendations to the County's Building Code to achieve all-electric buildings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill as it was initially submitted duplicated a lot of the requirements that localities will be held to through the State's Climate Solutions Now Act 2022.
I proposed the following amendments to strengthen the bill and ensure that Howard County would be well positioned to meet its ambitious climate goals in case the State's minimum requirements fall short. My amendments asked the report to include recommendations for stretch codes, which enable automatic increases to standards, and for an analysis of electric heat resistance systems, which are commonly used in affordable housing projects that have lower construction costs but higher operation costs and would contribute to environmental injustice considerations.
Climate Solutions at the State Level
In 2022, the General Assembly passed SB0528, which sets climate action goals of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency and emissions reductions for buildings and vehicles. The act defined the following schedule for the State government.
• January 1 – Adopt 2018 International Green Construction Code (IGCC); localities have 12 months to follow.
• January 1 – Issue an interim report on recommendations for electrifying buildings
in the State.
• June 30 – Submit a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 2006 levels by 2031.
• December 1 – Issue a final report building electrification report.
• December 31 – Issue final plans for reaching 2031 targets and a proposal for net-zero.
• December 31 – Issue final plans for net-zero by 2045.
• January 1 – Develop building energy performance standards for a 20% reduction in net direct greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2025 levels.
• January 1 – Develop building standards for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. The report recommends using the New Buildings Institute “Building Decarbonization Code” as an overlay to the 2021 International Building Code and allow exceptions for non-electric back-up generators and hybrid heat pumps. Backup generators of any fuel type should also be allowed in case of power outages or reduced supplies.