03/13/2011 FNP letter to the editor: Friends or not Friends — an easy call for taxpayers

Evidently in his Feb. 28 letter to The Frederick News-Post Mark Koehler was following the wisdom of Harry Truman, who once said, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

The issue in New Market is not the activities of Friends of Frederick County, but the town’s sprawling growth plan that will, in some form or another, ultimately impact every resident of Frederick County through crowded schools, traffic gridlock and higher taxes to subsidize the services and infrastructure needed to support growth.

Everyone can agree that economic vitality is needed, and now. But with over 5,300 vacant houses sitting on the market in Frederick County, annexing farmland to build even more is a road to nowhere.

Friends of Frederick County is a coalition of concerned citizens, farmers and business people who have brought a refreshing mandate of accountability to locally elected officials which is simply this: Follow the law. The sprawling, costly, unhealthy, environmentally and socially destructive growth planned for New Market is not only contradictory to the town’s own stated objectives but also out of compliance with state law.

Town leaders did not analyze and plan, as required by law, for the costs of services and infrastructure, such as roads, schools, emergency services, water and sewer service, and the impact of growth on environmentally sensitive areas. The law requires this assessment for a good reason: because taxpayers are often left footing the bill for future costs of residential and commercial sprawl. Unfunded mandates are routinely foisted on the public by many developers in Frederick County, where for years citizens have unwittingly paid higher taxes to cover the cost of more schools, more roads, sewer and water services, and more pollution.

Compliance with the law is something we should demand of all elected officials, along with a healthy dose of fiscal common sense. New Market’s plan throws that all overboard and reaches far beyond their own growth projections of 468 houses by the year 2030. The Smith Cline annexation alone plans for 925 homes. With 5,300 vacant homes in the county, you have to wonder why.

The “if you build it they will come” mentality of the past is simply not viable in the wreckage of vacant subdivisions dotting the countryside. But reality has not yet reached the leaders of New Market who cling to the notion that bulldozing and building creates jobs, even if no one happens to be buying. The New Market plan is not about progress or smart growth, it is a desperate attempt by developers and special interests to go back to the bubble economy days when real estate speculators could turn a profit selling futures in massive, budget-busting subdivisions — the public interest be damned.

Moving the county economy beyond its dependence on real estate speculation is why Friends of Frederick County came into existence more than seven years ago. That is why Friends is supporting a citizens initiative to prepare a plan for New Market that will meet New Market’s stated objective for “orderly, compact, phased and compatible growth as an alternative to suburban sprawl, automobile-dependent development that has consumed hundreds of thousands of acres of valuable land across our county” (see p. 5 New Market Municipal Growth Element addendum June 9, 2010).

The consequences of land-use decisions almost always fall on the shoulders of citizens. It is reasonable for them to have a voice in these affairs. That’s not demagoguery, or “meddling,” as Mr. Koehler puts it, it’s democracy.

Janice Wiles is the executive director of Friends of Frederick County; Amy Farber is a member of the board of directors of FoFC

Originally published March 13, 2011