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.

(15) comments

CRSmith88

This kinda sounds like New Market way back when except minus the poverty index. Whats going to happen is all the Millennials who got priced out of living in the Frederick area where they grew up, are being forced to move west. Brunswick will not choose to stay below the poverty line because of it's past if people want to move there and pay taxes. It's a matter of time before they just choose to build another school based off projected population.

TomWheatley

From an older 2015 impact fee report online, single family was ~$14.7K, duplex ~$15K, multi-family ~$6.2K per housing unit. Permits are a guess, but I would assume $5-10K is not out of consideration when you have building permits, well or water/sewer hookup, environmental impact depending on the unit being constructed, ADA compliance on the duplexes and multi-family, etc, etc, etc. Probably higher than 10K.

DickD

All the new construction on 17 isn't helping Brunswick and even if they build new and larger elementary schools there will eventually be a need for a middle and high school too.

Quisling

Everyday they are constructing new houses in Brunswick Crossing with hundreds more to come, why is that not mentioned. These new kids will go to Brunswick schools and add to the overcrowding.

Comment deleted.
Marwin3105

Such a helpful, constructive, and intelligent contribution to the discourse. Not too surprised. Get it together, Kelly!

gary4books

In my opinion, this is where the State supports a community that needs help. We do want their children to be well educated and even have homes that are affordable. So why tax them to distraction?

jsklinelga

gary4books

I recently looked at building a house in Brunswick. For a short term I worked for Interfaith and I have always sold or built considerably under market value. I would like to see a house my daughter, a very hard working, socially active person, could afford. But it is near impossible with the large,multiple fees imposed on new construction. I do not want to see downtown Brunswick turned into Key Parkway but I know little of the details. I just know that running a city in this day and age must be a hard job. We stress the need for educational opportunities for all. But I think a major problem is that the BOE has become the Ma Bell of government agencies. Change is needed.

public-redux

What kind of change is needed?

shiftless88

why do you blame fees on new construction? Why can't she buy a used house?

jsklinelga

shiftless

She bought a used house. The article is about building affordable housing. I bet you do not know the amount of fees involved.before construction can begin. And i assume you are telling all lower income folks to buy used homes

shiftless88

jsk; if they build affordable housing then it will be, by definition, affordable. Since none are being built how do you know the fees and costs?

jsklinelga

shiftless

I am at a loss for your logic. As I originally posted the fees involved to build a new house make building an affordable house difficult if not impossible.

DickD

"But I think a major problem is that the BOE has become the Ma Bell of government agencies. Change is needed."  Jim, would you mind explaining this?  Ma Bell was a monopoly, residential contractors aren't and what you are complaining about is fees. School construction is just a part of those fees and all construction, no matter what community is going to have fees.  Perhaps the answer is to not build in downtown Brunswick.  That would likely reduce the cost of land and utilities - not part of your fees, but  certainly part of your costs.  Another problem I see is that the schools being built are "Tag Mahals" and I question the need for some of their costs.  Now you already have a major development and going outside the City would no longer be a City problem, but it still would impact the roads and schools.  Another question, have you looked at prebuilt homes?  Some are very nice and they cost considerably less.

gary4books

My take on the Bell system was that they built the best system they could build and it was known for its reliability. Central units were often underground in Texas and never impacted by tornadoes as they could have been. I would want schools to have the same quality and care in their construction. Our children deserve the best we can afford.

DickD

Gary, you do realize A.T.&T. had incentive to build for a long time. Because tariffs were based on costs, the higher the cost the higher the profits. When Jim said this I don't think he really knew what he was talking about.

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