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In the five years since St. Mary’s County government began an annual limit on new lots for homes, the soft development market has prevented any real test of that growth policy.

The policy is intended to limit new residential development annually to 1.9 percent of the existing housing stock. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 799 new lots could have been approved under the policy, said Dave Chapman, a planner with the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.

In reality, there were 155 lots for new homes approved during that time, he said.

Before the housing market boom ended in 2008, St. Mary’s was granting approvals for about 800 new homes a year. It was in 2008 that the annual growth policy was adopted and since then, housing growth has trailed off. New homes approved dropped from 320 in fiscal 2009, to 269 the next year, to 288 and to 168 in 2012, a staff report shows.

“We have reached only 20 to 40 percent of our caps,” Chapman told the county commissioners Tuesday.

From this month until June 30, 2014, the land use and growth management department can approve up to 808 new lots or apartments, based on the 42,507 homes now in St. Mary’s.

A staff report said school capacity “will likely be adequate for at least 10 years.”

“Each year is a bone of contention between your office and the board of” education, said Commissioner Todd Morgan (R). “We’re getting input from both sides that are almost contradictory.”

Phil Shire, director of land use and growth management, said the difference comes from the way the two agencies track population growth. His office tracks new lots and permits, while the school system uses information from the Maryland Department of Planning based on population trends and the number of families.

The county’s annual growth policy also divides where new growth should go. Seventy percent is supposed to go into growth areas, like Hollywood, Piney Point, Lexington Park, California and Leonardtown, while the remainder can go into the Rural Preservation District.

In the last fiscal year, the split was 81 percent in growth areas and 19 percent in rural areas, the report showed.

jbabcock@somdnews.com