Thursday, September 13, 2007

APFO: The Good, The Bad, and.......

At Monday’s city council meeting, the council passed the Adequacy of Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) that has been in the works for well over a year. The APFO passed despite 44 (forty-four!) amendments offered by Alderwoman Stankivic no more than 6 hours before the vote! The bill was sponsored by Dave Cordle, R-Ward 5 and Ross Arnett, economist, and D-Ward 8. I think that it is fair to say that Alderman Cordle has staked much of his political reputation on the success of this bill.

The basic idea is that we need to make sure that our infrastructure can handle the development that we have. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast! The bill is meant to provide a comprehensive answer to the question: is a certain project right for the city of Annapolis? Are our roads, our police and fire, our schools, our water and sewer sytems, equipped to handle growth?

Some of the questions we can act upon, but some we cannot. For example, schools are run by the county. If the APFO wanted to change the schools, it could not do so because the city does not have jurisdiction over the schools. Ditto: roads. While the city maintains most roads within its limits, some major roads (Forest Dr, I think) are notably excluded. Aldermen Shropshire and Stankivic voted against the APFO because it didn’t address traffic, but Aldermen Cordle and Arnett point to the jurisdictional issues, as well as another bill dealing with roads and traffic.

Basically, the process works like this:
-A builder or developer submits an adequacy of public facilities application at the same time as the application for design review.
-The application is passed to the following department heads for individual review, pursuant to each department’s purview: Director of Public Works, Director of Planning and Zoning, Director of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs, Police Chief, Fire Chief.
-Each department head ensures that the proposal meets the standards established by the APFO. (see below)
-If the proposal is satisfactory, department heads give their approval, and a certificate of adequate facilities is issues.
-Deficiencies in city properties must meet the adequacy standards of this bill within 6 years.


Fire: Maintain response times of 4 or 8 minutes, depending on the situation. Maintain appropriate firefighter to population ratio.

Police: Maintain ratio of no fewer than 3.2 officers per 1000 citizens. Maintain average response time of 2 minutes, 30 seconds for type one emergencies.

Public Maintenance (roads, sewer, water, snow removal, trash pickup): Maintain adequacy as determined by the Director of Public Works.

Recreation Spaces:
*1000 feet of public recreational space per single family house.
*750 sq feet of public recreational space per single family attached unit.
*500 sq feet of public recreational space per multi-family dwelling unit.

Transportation: Provide reasonable access to non-vehicular travel where necessary.

Stormwater: Ensure developments meet existing stormwater runoff code.

If a proposed development does not meet the above standards, 2 things can happen. Either the proposal is denied, or it is put on a wait list at the request of the applicant. For projects on the wait list, a certificate of adequate facilities can be issued once the problems are resolved.

If the city’s infrastructure will not support a particular project, the applicant has some options. They can pay the city for improvements in infrastructure, directly improve existing infrastructure or facilities, or donate facilities that are adequate.

Those are the facts, time for some analysis.

The Good.
I am not a developer, nor have I ever been a developer, nor do I want to be a developer when I grow up. But I imagine that for a business where such long-term planning and expense are necessary, you need to know what to plan for. Even if developers don’t agree with the code, at least they know what it is and can plan their costs accordingly.

Step in the Right Direction.
Let’s not kid ourselves—the clamor for this bill came about after the current system allowed Park Place and 1901 West to be built. Many, and probably most, citizens were somewhat surprised and opposed to such development, and now there is a more specific way to address smart growth.

Steps have been taken so the developers are not too terribly affected. If service to fire hydrants is not adequate, builders can add a sprinkler system. If a sewer system is old, builders can replace it.

Before, construction permits were all in the hands of the Planning and Zoning Director (I think). Now, there are no fewer than 5 department heads that can put the kibosh on development that they think is flawed. There is more openness, and a better chance for the public to articulate their concerns.

With the oversight comes more discretionary ability. The leaders of our city must know come together vis-à-vis the approval process before any major changes to our city are made.

The Bad.
Buy Your Way Out.
Oh, you don’t want to build a park? No problem, just buy your way out. Section 22.20.040:

The standards required to be promulgated pursuant to Section 22.08.10, shall include but not be limited to:
1. (recreation standards listed)
2. The fees in lieu of the provision of such public restoration space; or
3. A combination of the above.

If somebody decided that we need this recreation space, why are we letting people get out of it?

Yes, discretion is good and bad. Let’s say that the next election produces a crazy mayor, and that person appoints crazy department heads, and they think that a 200 story skyscraper is appropriate at the Market House….tough luck for us.

Very Wide Red Tape.
With this ordinance, government is growing. No two ways about it. Not only that—more levels of government are becoming involved, and this is a separate process. In other words, the APFO application is something builders have to do in addition to the permit processes they already have to go through. If you want economic development, you have to streamline the permitting process. Why not just make one application that covers everything? The APFO provides a process for spending more tax money to do all the things the bill requires.

The Other.
Do You Agree?
There is still time to offer your opinion. The two authors of the bill are fully aware that the bill will go through revisions. Surely some of Ms. Stankivic’s 44 ideas will make their way into the final version. But what do you think? Should there be more recreational space, or less? Should the city address the issues it only has partial control over? Tell your alderman.

The bill alluded to ratios for both police and fire. It is good that the bill did not cap the ratios of police and fire to population, but the reliance on ratios is misplaced. I fear that the way we measure the adequacy is the ratios, and not the important things like response times, reduction in crime, etc.

There Is Much Left To Do…Can We Cooperate?

Notably absent from the APFO are provisions on schools and roads, as well as a real plan to reduce the use of vehicular travel. The authors point out that these issues are being addressed elsewhere. The entirety of our lives is not encompassed by the APFO—other jurisdictions and other bills, along with the comprehensive plan, have much to do with what this bill tries to accomplish.

We have to continue to be vigilant—the process does not stop here. We have to be involved in the Comprehensive Plan, the Transportation Plan, and frankly, everything else.

We also have to accept that we must work with the county—the only ‘sister’ jurisdiction that matters. If city fire trucks can’t respond in 4 minutes because a county road is too narrow, what are we going to do? And how much better could our procedures be if we actually cooperated with the county on things like police, fire, and public works?

Much remains to be seen.

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