The city of Brunswick is being put in the position of having to choose between expanding affordable housing and school crowding.
That’s an unfair and unfortunate situation.
Adding affordable housing has been a point of discussion for Brunswick Mayor Jeff Snoots and the City Council. This past April, for instance, they sent a letter of support to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for an affordable housing project on the Railroad Square site in downtown Brunswick.
For a municipality where 52 percent of households cannot afford the total bills for things such as housing, food, transportation, child care and health care, according to the United Way’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) report, additional affordable housing is a valuable commodity.
But so is education. And that’s where the quest for affordable housing could hit a wall.
Enrollment figures for Brunswick Elementary School for the coming school year already place it at 227 students over capacity. Adding housing to the area — be it affordable or otherwise — would not technically be allowed under the town’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, commonly referred to as APFO.
Under APFO, development isn’t permitted if it would push the school past 105 percent of capacity, and redistricting students to a nearby school isn’t available. There can be exceptions to APFO, and that’s what took up a large portion of Tuesday night’s Brunswick City Council meeting.
Discussion turned to considering exemptions, including those made on a case-by-case basis for affordable housing. It’s quite a tempting idea, particularly when the need for affordable housing is great.
But solving one problem by making another one worse isn’t the answer.
The answer to Brunswick’s dilemma lies in another complicated matter, and that’s school construction, something Brunswick officials have no control over.
The Frederick County Council is looking at legislation on mitigation fees and how they can be applied to developers wanting to build in areas where schools are already crowded. This of course can help in situations such as the one Brunswick faces. But a real fix needs to come from the Frederick County Board of Education.
The school board has broad authority to look at such things as redistricting schools in the area, building new ones or even authorizing additions that ease the crowding. If anyone can help Brunswick find a way to add affordable housing and still keep schools such as Brunswick Elementary at or below capacity, it’s the school board.
But we’re not naive. School construction ultimately comes down to money or, more bluntly, the lack thereof. We also recognize that Brunswick isn’t the only community facing this kind of school construction issue.
This isn’t to say that the school board isn’t paying attention. At a recent meeting, scores of Brunswick supporters, including local elected officials and members of the public, showed up to make their point in person about the need for a new high school.
But as Mayor Snoots pointed out, Brunswick feels it doesn’t get the attention it feels it deserves.
“I’ve been here all my life, and I’ve seen how it works,” Snoots said at Tuesday’s meeting. “[But] we made it known that we’re tired of it.”
We’re glad he got their attention. Because he and the Brunswick council shouldn’t have to choose between affordable housing and school crowding.