The Baltimore County Council on Monday passed a contentious measure designed to reduce overcrowding in schools by adding an approval process for developers who want to build new housing.

The measure addresses the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which is supposed to make sure there’s enough public services for new development.

It passed after more than three hours of deliberation and a litany amendments.

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Councilmen Mike Ertel and Chair Izzy Patoka, both Democrats, joined Republicans David Marks and Wade Kach voting in favor. The four councilmen sponsored the bill. Voting against were democrats Pat Young and Julian Jones. Todd Crandell, a Republican of Dundalk, was not there.

Jones initially supported the legislation but withdrew his support. At Monday’s meeting, he introduced a number of amendments intended to dilute the bill, but none passed.

“There has been a lot of discussion about school overcrowding. And I say, according to who?” Jones said.

Ertel, a Democrat who represents Towson, sharply critiqued the Jones’ attempts to weaken the bill.

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“When you have a grossly overcrowded school, it’s just unconscionable to add more,” Ertel said. “It’s like we have a lifeboat of 8 kids and we’re going to put 12 more in it.”

Young’s objections were more procedural, as the bill had many amendments and he said he could not be sure it would address school overcrowding. Jones said the bill was an anti-development measure at a time when the county is shrinking and the school system is not asking for help with overcrowding

In an emailed statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said his administration shares concerns about school overcrowding and supports efforts to address it responsibly, “but our administration has also expressed valid challenges with this complex bill, including its detrimental impacts on Baltimore County’s moral and legal obligations to address attainable housing. In light of those concerns and flurry of amendment activity, we will carefully review the final version of this legislation in the coming days to determine the appropriate next step.”

Some advocates and officials have said they worried this bill would make it harder to build housing, including subsidized affordable housing. Some testified that redistricting schools would be a better solution to ease crowding.

Baltimore County Public Schools has already changed school boundaries five times in the past two years through a lengthy process called a boundary study. On Monday, school system representatives proposed a list of 30 amendments in an attempt to introduce sweeping changes at the eleventh hour. The bill had already gone through three public hearings.

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Those amendments failed.

Baltimore County entered into an agreement with federal housing authorities to add 1,000 units of affordable housing by 2027.

Baltimore County didn’t have developer impact fees — which are paid to local governments to offset the public consequences of construction — in place until 2020. But developer exemptions have made it difficult for the county to collect any impact fees: In fiscal years 2023 and 2021, the county netted $0, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The county has had an APFO in place for about 20 years. This legislation came a few years after the Baltimore County Council created a task force to come up with recommendations for improving the APFO with regard to school crowding.

The task force had recommended lowering what the county considers to be an overcrowded school from 115% capacity to 110%.

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