Crowding at Brunswick Elementary School could be the latest snag in the plans to bring an affordable housing complex to the city’s downtown.
Brunswick’s mayor and City Council spent the majority of their Tuesday meeting discussing exemptions related to school enrollment for age-restricted and affordable housing developments as part of a revision to the municipality’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, or APFO.
The APFO sets requirements for municipalities, such as the amount of open space, school capacity or available water and sewer.
While the council members were ready to apply the exemption to age-restricted developments — as they would be less likely to bring any more children because most residents are 55 or older — they were hesitant to apply it to affordable housing developments, which could increase the number of students in local schools.
Brunswick Elementary School is at 145 percent of capacity, with 2019 enrollment projections estimating the school will be 227 students over capacity.
Under the APFO, if an elementary school is at more than 105 percent capacity and redistricting is not available, developments should be denied. The exemption for affordable housing developments would make it so that would not apply to a project like Railroad Square, a proposal to build about 40 apartments, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
Affordable housing development, under proposed revisions to the APFO, have 50 or fewer multiple-family units, with 85 percent of units for households earning 60 percent or less of the county median income.
Councilman Nathan Brown raised concerns about adding students to the already crowded elementary school if the exemption were applied to affordable housing developments.
“I completely agree that we need affordable housing. We need mechanisms for that,” Brown said in Tuesday’s meeting. “There is a great need for that. But this is deciding that affordable housing is more important than school crowding. That’s really what this change does.”
Instead of an exemption to the APFO, Brown wants to pursue the ability to issue waivers for development on a case-by-case basis. The council unanimously voted to ask the city attorney to determine if this is a feasible option.
At the heart of the issue are the crowded elementary school and the question of whether Brunswick will get a new one. Brown said that the promise of a new elementary school first came in 1999.
Brunswick council members have no control over whether the county builds a new school, but they can determine the city’s growth through the APFO, Brown said. Already, the city is expected to see more residents as more houses are planned for Brunswick Crossing.
When it comes to new schools, the county waits until schools are over capacity, City Administrator David Dunn said.
For Brunswick, that could mean continuing to wait, Mayor Jeff Snoots said.
“I’ve been here all my life, and I’ve seen how it works,” Snoots said. “Brunswick always takes a back seat until this last [Board of Education] meeting that everybody went to on the council, and we made it known that we’re tired of it.”