The Frederick County Commissioners have approved or are discussing approval of over 7000 new dwellings, in many cases without appropriate plans for schools, roads, emergency services and other key infrastructure. We believe that our public officials should follow existing laws; in a growing number of cases that is not happening.
FoFC is currently challenging:
* Crum and Thatcher (Frederick City north)
* New Market Municipal Growth Element in Maryland Court of Special Appeals(read letter from FoFC)
* Frederick City Comprehensive Plan in Frederick County Circuit Court
* Landsdale (Monrovia) at the Board of Appeals
* Landsdale Storm Water Management Administrative Waiver at the Board of Appeals, March 28, 2013 7pm
* Jefferson Technology Park at the Board of Appeals
* Frederick County’s 2012 Comprehensive Rezoning in the Frederick County Circuit Court
If school overcrowding is your concern, it is with good reason. Read this published letter from one Monrovia citizen who gives us the facts.
That some are lobbying Congress and suing in federal court to stop the progress [cleaning the Chesapeake Bay waters] is not only tragic, it is mind-boggling. All of us who value the Chesapeake and are determined to see a better future for our children and grandchildren must let our voices be heard. It is time to finish the job.
Skirting open meetings
Originally published January 18, 2013
We’re glad New Market’s attorney, William Wantz, put the brakes Wednesday night on two massive annexations, but not because we support or oppose them — that’s a matter for the town to decide.What concerns us are some of the maneuvers by town leaders that make it look like they’re trying to skirt the Open Meetings Act, a state law dedicated to ensuring we all have full and thorough access to government officials when they make decisions, most of which involve spending our tax money.
At issue in this case are two parcels of land — the 262-acre Smith-Cline and 134-acre Delaplaine properties — that, added to New Market’s boundaries, would double the town’s size and could add nearly 1,000 new houses.
New Market’s leaders know annexation proposals are controversial. In a 2007 referendum, in a vote of 148-105, residents shot down plans to annex the Smith and Cline farms after the public objected. The process dragged out over months and was extremely controversial; tempers flared on both sides. That was a tough, open and necessary debate, one that seems to be missing in this latest push to expand the town’s limits.
Take two examples where New Market’s leadership walked a fine line about notifying its residents and other interested parties.
On Jan. 10, the day of the planning commission hearing, the annexation discussion was added to the agenda at 10 a.m. The hearing was at 7 p.m. — and the planning commissioners voted to support the annexations that night. If you were interested in attending and making your opinion known, pro or con, but worked out of the county or had some other commitment, you were probably out of luck.
A planned vote on the annexations, listed innocuously enough as a “discussion,” was added to Thursday’s Town Council agenda only the day before the 7 p.m. meeting. That’s where Wantz, who is apparently listening to residents worried about the annexation, told council members, “We want to do this right, and we want to do this in a way that doesn’t cause harm.”
These meetings were not advertised even remotely adequately. In the case of the vote, the lack of notification was particularly egregious. Another public hearing has been scheduled for next month.
Scheduling the discussion suddenly on the day of the hearing or day before by adding it to the agenda at the last minute is government’s cowardly end run around the law to mute opposition in sometimes controversial decisions. Sadly, under the Open Meetings Act, it’s not illegal. But it’s certainly not within the spirit of the law. We’re not sure if an intentional suppression of opinion was what happened in the case of the annexations, or whether it was an overly hasty attempt to move this issue ahead. Either way, we’d urge Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III and the Town Council to consider the importance of allowing enough time for the public to be present at and speak at the next hearing.
Taken alone, the lack of notification could be considered just an oversight. But there are a couple of more points of concern.
Burhans says he has been meeting with anyone who wants to learn more. They have been one-on-one meetings in private homes. They were set up using his private business email, which he includes on nearly all of his town correspondence, and not the email he has through the town.
Why private email? Presumably because government emails are public information and subject to public information requests. Using a private email to communicate is the 21st-century equivalent to meeting in a smoky back room behind closed doors. Meeting one-on-one is similarly questionable.
Finally, in an explanation of the late notice to one of our reporters, Burhans indicated that letters from him and other council members were sufficient notice — except they didn’t contain a time, date or address for the meetings. This is hardly the “reasonable advance notice” required by the law. In fact, the Open Meetings Act manual published by the Maryland attorney general (and available on his website) clearly states: “Unless some unusual circumstance makes it impracticable to do so, the public body should give a written notice that includes the date, time, and place of its meeting.”
We hope these aren’t intentional strategies to subvert proper public comment and avoid the kind of divisive — but necessary — public debate that took months to resolve in 2007 and led to that special election referendum. But that’s how it appears, and in politics, even small-town politics, appearance is everything.
Hearings on this have not allowed for a full and thorough debate. We doubt a majority of residents’ voices have been adequately heard. That needs to happen before a decision as monumental as doubling the town’s size is voted on by the council.
|Monrovia Town Center protesters gather downtown
Plan would put 1,510 houses, commercial development on hundreds of acres east of Ed McClain Road
Originally published January 17, 2013By Patti S. Borda
Half a dozen protesters took their concerns about Monrovia’s future to Frederick’s streets Wednesday.They made their stand at the corner of Church and Market streets just before the Frederick County Planning Commission was scheduled to discuss the Monrovia Town Center proposal.
The commission has not yet scheduled a public hearing on any part of the plan, but will do so and make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners probably around March, according to Jim Gugel, county planner.
Monrovia Town Center’s plan would put 1,510 houses and 280,000 square feet of commercial development on 460 acres east of Ed McClain Road and north of Fingerboard Road.
Before that can start, Teddy Kroll said she and her Monrovia neighbors are rallying as many people as they can to write letters and speak at public hearings. They hope to convince planners and county commissioners that their neighborhood is not suitable for Urbana-style density and development.
“How would they like it if someone did this to them, put Urbana on their front lawn?” Kroll said in an interview Wednesday.
The roads cannot handle the traffic now, and the additional traffic would be disastrous, Kroll said. Her first concern is Md. 75, which the state has no money or plan to improve.
Kroll and her neighbors take no comfort from Frederick County Commissioners President Blaine Young’s assurance that the developers will help pay for road improvements and their projects will be built over several decades.
“It’s irresponsible to plan on money that isn’t there,” Kroll said.
Amy Reyes is spearheading the grass-roots effort to involve more residents in the area planning. She runs a Facebook page for Residents Against Landsdale Expansion. The group will meet Sunday at a location and time to be announced soon, Reyes said.
Reyes and a half dozen people at Wednesday’s meeting scoffed aloud at what counts as community notification about projects such as the 1,100-home Landsdale development in the same area. Planning Commissioner John McClurkin suggested that people who had sat through the meeting might be allowed to comment, even though it was not a public hearing.
The county is not sufficiently accounting for the combined effect of Landsdale and Monrovia Town Center on schools and roads, three people told the commission.
In addition to optional meetings developers may choose to have with neighbors, Gugel said county staff will accept any invitation to attend community meetings for the purpose of answering questions about projects and the planning process. He encouraged the public to find the latest information on the county planning website, from a project’s initial stages to its completion.
If Monrovia Town Center is built, Kroll said, life will change for a small community where it is safe to let children outside to play.
“It becomes Urbana,” she said. “You have to bring all the kids back inside.”
Young’s “forceful personality” may be swaying fellow commissioners to approve the plan, but they and the county will have to live with this administration’s decisions long after Young leaves office, Kroll said.
“Now is the only time the neighborhood can stop it,” she said.
A coalition of residents of Monrovia, Maryland
are working together to keep the nature of their community small and rural, in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan for Frederick County . They have formed a facebook page called Residents against Landsdale Expansion Monrovia, please post something of interest, sign their petition (go to the bottom of the page), pose questions, volunteer interest…get involved and help!
over 50 people turned out to learn more about the annexation plans. The mayor and council made no presentation for the crowd, and told people to submit their questions in writing. Read about the hearing in the Frederick Newspost: Dozens turn out for New Market annex debate
FoFC presented Mayor Burhans and the Town Council with a letter detailing the legal issues with the annexation proposals, and made the following points in testimony:
Originally published October 05, 2012
|Recently, the Board of County Commissioners, by a predictable 4-1 vote, approved master plan changes to add over 1,100 houses to the rural Monrovia landscape. It is very unsettling to envision what a project of this scale will do to the area in terms of traffic, schools and infrastructure shortcomings since this change will have triple the impact of the original zoning.However, perhaps more frightening is the proposed Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) that gives the developers a legal agreement that binds the county for a period of 25 years. Really, a quarter of a century? Longer than a master plan? Longer than the period recommended by the state? Longer than the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance?Is it good government to lock future commissioners and planners into 25 years of traffic, school crowding and infrastructure issues?
Perhaps the same crystal ball that instituted a school mitigation fee that underperforms was used to arrive at this decision. Be aware, now that the first DRRA has been approved, developer lawyers will flood Winchester Hall with their requests for 25-year guarantees for taxpayer (government-funded) support for their projects.
Planning Commissioner speaks out on reverse bidding on agricultural preservation funding (FNP, letter to the editor)
|Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve’s suggestion for reverse bidding on properties seeking agricultural preservation funding possibly could save the county some money. However, as with many of the cuts and changes in county programs made by this board, it seems to reflect only a desire to appear to save money … and no consideration for the intent of the program.
Agricultural preservation programs exist to help economically stressed farmers keep their land in productive use, while giving them economic support to help them avoid having to sell their land for other uses. Requiring reverse bidding works to see just how little a farmer is willing to take to keep the land in agricultural production. In other words, those in the most desperate straits, those most in need, will be forced to bid the lowest. This increases their chance of economic failure … precisely the opposite effect for which the program was intended.
Shreve compared his proposed process to an eBay auction. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. In an eBay auction, bidders compete to raise and reach a fair market value. Under this process the objective is to undercut a fair value and give the farmer as little economic support as possible. The most needy will bid the lowest.
In contracting, this process is known as “bid shopping” and is considered unethical. It is forbidden by law in some jurisdictions because it leads to cutting corners and decreased quality. In agricultural preservation it is also unethical and will act to undermine support for impoverished farmers and, in the long run, work against the whole concept of the program.
BOB WHITE, member, Frederick County Planning Commission
Originally published May 17, 2012