Gazette editorial: Pay now, or pay later for Frederick County development

Gazette editorial published on Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pay now, or pay later for Frederick County development

The scene is a familiar one in Maryland: a “bedroom” county with lots of available open space attracts developers who see dollar signs, while elected officials see an easy way to expand the tax base and pay for needed services.

On the other side, advocacy groups and residents who are worried about crowded roads and schools, and the possible higher taxes needed to improve both, draw a line in the sand to fight what they view as unfettered growth.

The developers and elected officials, with zoning law on their side, usually win in the end, with the developers getting rich, and the elected officials moving on to higher office. But years later, their legacy is sometimes urban sprawl that is virtually impossible to undo.

By then, the debate is about “smart growth” vs. “dumb growth,” or the need to impose a building moratorium because development has outstripped a jurisdiction’s ability to accommodate it with the needed infrastructure.

Thoughtful elected officials and residents who witnessed such a gradual erosion of the quality of life in their communities then ask, “How did we get here? What were they thinking a decade ago when they allowed this to happen?”

That crucial time when the future is decided is being played out in Frederick County here and now.  Read more…

 

FNP: citizen questions city permitting the Tough Mudder, and links bad planning to votes of current elected officials

 Put blame in the right place

(Frederick News Post, Sept 23, 2012)

The traffic snarl and resident complaints regarding the Tough Mudder race held at Crumland Farms last weekend are not the story of an organizer who misled anyone. It is the story of incompetency among Frederick city and Frederick County officials. On Sept. 5, an article inThe Frederick News-Post quoted Tough Mudder media representative Ashley Fallick as stating the event is expected to attract approximately 27,000 people. In that same article, Frederick city Economic Development Director Richard Griffin remarked, “Having 27,000 folks here for the Tough Mudder Race this weekend is sure to increase hotel room nights and sales at restaurants and other retail establishments.” He goes on to say, “Additionally, it highlights Frederick to folks from other places as a great place to live, invest and do business.”

Were these individuals misquoted? I doubt it. Regardless, Mayor Randy McClement and Police Chief Kim Dine claim they were caught off-guard and the debacle was a result of poor planning on the part of Tough Mudder LLC. When an organization from outside of Frederick applies for a permit and the city grants it, should they not assume the officials would understand the implications of said permit? Are McClement and Dine unaware of the issues we face on U.S. 15 every day? Were they shocked that 27,000 people going to a parking area off Willow Road could pose a problem? Should it have been their responsibility to recognize the possible problems more than an out-of-town organization that is bringing its business to Frederick? And why is the local government being so difficult about revealing the details of the permit to the public? It is laughable that Alderwoman Karen Young, an elected city leader, was, by her own admission, not even aware that two major events were scheduled for Frederick on the same weekend. What about County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who seemed to sense there might be work involved? He made sure to keep the mud off his hands.

But this was only one event on one weekend that went wrong. What is more frightening is that several of these individuals are behind the annexation of several farms in the area, including the race venue, Crum Farm, so that the lands can be developed heavily. These are the people that claim issues regarding school crowding, congested local roads and highways, and public safety will be addressed satisfactorily once thousands more housing units are added to the area.

How many portables are already on our public school grounds? How often is traffic congested on 15 and other main roads in the area? How well-staffed are our police forces and other emergency response organizations? Last weekend, Frederick city’s leadership proved they were incapable of ensuring a decent quality of life for residents of the city and county. Sadly, I am glad this weekend’s events wreaked so much havoc on Frederick. Consider it training. It is the kind of discomfort we will need to get used to in the coming years. As Commissioners President Blaine Young stated in the Sept. 7 edition of The Frederick News-Post, the annexation and further development of local Frederick farms “supports the best aspects of Smart Growth,” the urban development plan initiated in Maryland under Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening in the ’90s. That is a rather ambiguous remark, for it overlooks the worst aspects of the Smart Growth initiative. A week ago Saturday was just a taste of what is to come in the all-too-near future of Frederick, and I fail to see anything smart about it — or the elected officials behind it.

DONNIE CORNELL

writes from Frederick.

Frederick City Planning Dept Staff Report – Crum II Annexation and Development

CRUM II STAFF REPORT

5-15-12 FNP City needs more details on Crum annexation

Features of planned development

  • $572 million: total value at completion
  • $181 million in commercial and office development
  • 700 single-family homes
  • 300 townhouses
  • 200 condominiums
  • 1 million square feet of office
  • 120,000 square feet of retail
  • 80,000 square feet for a grocery store

The Frederick city planning commissioners agreed unanimously Monday that they want more details about Crum Farm Land LLC’s request to annex an additional 250 acres before they make a recommendation to the mayor and Board of Aldermen.

The proposed annexation cannot change the 2009 terms of Crum Farm Land’s 285-acre annexation of adjoining property, but it does open the door for new negotiations concerning the additional land, staff said. For the conservation group Friends of Frederick County, the original Crum annexation and its conditions do not adequately address the impact the annexation will have on schools and roads.

The proposal, for 1,200 houses and 1.3 million square feet of nonresidential development, includes a 15-acre school site, a 22-acre park and improvements to Willowbrook Road.

Commissioners Rick Stup, Lib Fetting and Josh Bokee said they would like to see some guarantees that the concessions and park connections, pedestrian trails and road construction would happen as envisioned.

Crum Farm Land representatives said they are not trying to get out of any of the 2009 agreements, but are also not looking to make more concessions because the new proposal is to build the same amount of commercial and residential development over a greater area. The result is a less dense development that does not increase the need for water and sewer service that has already been approved.

The annexation would add 252 acres west of U.S. 15, southwest of Sundays Lane, and north of Willowbrook Road. The land adjoins 285 acres of Crum Farm Land that were annexed in 2009, and would allow the developer to use 535 acres instead of 285 acres for the approved 1,200 homes and 1.3 million square feet of commercial and office space, said Bruce Dean, the property owner’s attorney.

Although the 2009 annexation took in land in what was considered the city’s Tier I imminent growth area, the current proposal involves Tier III land, which is not scheduled for growth or to have water and sewer service for 20 to 30 years. The land was originally all part of one tract, Dean said.

Commissioners said it could set a dangerous precedent to allow Tier III properties to cut ahead of the order of development envisioned by the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I’m concerned about the Tier III thing,” Fetting said.

Dean said the Crum case does not violate the tiered planning because the property has water and sewer service allotted, and the tiers designate properties according to likely water and sewer service. If there is no plan for service, then it goes into the third tier.

Tier II is for property where service is to be available in about 10 years, and few are left, Dean said. In the case of the Crum properties, if they are reunited, the water and sewer is available as part of the Potomac Water Service Agreement.

The 2009 annexation agreement requires most development to wait until a new interchange is built at U.S. 15 and Biggs Ford Road, and that would not change if the additional land is annexed, Dean said. It would take about 10 years to develop the first 350 to 450 houses, and 20 to build the entire project, said Mark Fries, Crum Farm Land consultant.

Janice Wiles, Friends of Frederick County director, told commissioners neither annexation agreement can be combined with the 2009 annexation. The effects on U.S. 15 traffic and school capacity have not been adequately addressed in the 2009 agreement or the current one.

Commissioners tentatively rescheduled their vote for their July 9 meeting and plan to have workshops with Crum representatives to get more details of the plan.

“I don’t have a clear picture of what we’re getting,” Stup said.

FoFC: facts on northern annexations

Annexation facts

Originally published March 18, 2012

O

In Sunday’s (March 4) letter regarding the Crum and Thatcher annexations and development the author says, “I feel if built as advertised it should help traffic and give added tax base to both the city and the county.” I don’t know what advertising the author refers to, but wish to provide some facts to the story — so that citizens know the truth about Frederick city’s northern development that might not be as transparent as the advertising. They are:

No plan adopted: Frederick city did not adopt a plan for the development of these properties. The city is required by law to provide a thorough analysis for the impacts of the planned development (on schools, roads, emergency services, rivers and sensitive areas), how impacts will be mitigated and who will pay for them. There is no plan.

No traffic plan: It will cost an estimated $3.5 billion to solve our current road crisis in Frederick County. U.S. 15 improvements are estimated at $904 million. Who will pay to ensure that U.S. 15 can accommodate the 11,000-plus additional car trips each day from the Crum development alone? We don’t know, there is no plan.

No infrastructure standards: Recently, the Frederick County Commissioners passed an ordinance that allows developers to enter into binding Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreements with the county instead of adhering to standards of an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). What was a requirement to provide basic public services to accommodate development is now a back-room deal between commissioners and developers. Do commissioners always consider our best interests? You can make the call on that one.

No need: The existing 20-year county plan meets state residential growth projections by allowing for 36,000 new homes in Frederick County without the Crum development. That’s a lot of homes. The Crum development was pitched as critical housing for the Fort Detrick newcomers — but those people are already here, living in existing homes. So there is no need for the Crum development. More recent 2011 housing projections say that we have over projected by about 25 percent — so there is much less of a need for new homes now than there was just two years ago!

Higher taxes: The cost to extend and maintain public services well exceeds the revenue gained off the expanded tax base.

Janice Wiles

Friends of Frederick County

 

Plaintiffs in northern annexation case ask that Frederick City comply with judges order

January 2012- In compliance with the official court order by Judge Stepler in December 2011 (Official court transcript 12-8-11),  Defendants, Frederick CIty, provided admission responses.  Plaintiff review deemed that several of the answers were inadequate, and have  (on Febr 2, 2012) requested that the defendants comply and answer plaintiff’ questions.

On the horizon: There is a trial scheduled for mid October 2012.

 

A review of the lawsuit:  FRIENDS OF FREDERICK COUNTY V THE CITY OF FREDERICK (JUNE 2010)

Thatcher and Crum Legal complaints that address urban sprawlFriends of Frederick County and 21 city and county resident taxpayers  filed a complaint against Frederick City alleging that the Crum and COPT/Thatcher annexations are unlawful for three reasons:

  1. 1.  The City of Frederick failed to meet the requirements of State law as the City did not provide a plan for how they will pay for all public facilities necessary to accommodate the annexations and their development.
  2. 2.  The City of Frederick – as part of its resolutions – changed the zoning classification of the annexed property from agricultural use to substantially different uses with a density more than 50% greater than the original agricultural use. State law prohibits a municipality, for a period of five years following an annexation, absent the County’s consent, from changing the annexed land to a substantially different use or to a density more than 50% greater than the prior zoning authorized.  The County has not given its consent.  The change of zoning classification is in violation of this and other provisions of State law.
  3. To annex the properties, the City of Frederick amended its Charter.  However, the Charter Amendment fails to meet the requirements of State law, which provides that a Charter may not be amended by reference to its title or section only, and that the amendment must show how the Charter section being amended would read after it has been changed.

The Complaint requests the Circuit Court to:

  1. Declare the Crum and COPT/Thatcher annexations unlawful and void;
  2. Declare the change of zoning classifications of the Crum and COPT/Thatcher properties unlawful and void;
  3. Declare the annexation Charter Amendments unlawful and void; and
  4. Enjoin implementation of the annexations and their change of zoning classifications.

 

Call for your opinion on the northern annexations!

“Classic sprawl…look for problems to come” says Commissioner Gray; Commissioners Young, Shreve, Smith and DeLauter allow Crum and Thatcher Farm development to proceed

Please share your opinion of this today!!

Write 200 words and submit to:

Thousands of citizens petitioned against these developments yet a handful of property owners, lawyers and developers win – and will profit enormously at your expense. This is NOT smart growth.

Read more!

“Classic sprawl…look for problems to come”; BOCC allows development on Crum and Thatcher Farms immediately

Click here for information on the citizen complaint against the northern annexations.

To read more on Thatcher and Crum development plans search either name on the FoFC home page search tab.

Frederick News Post article:  Annexed farmland clear for developing

Originally published January 27, 2012 

By Pete McCarthy

Annexed farmland clear for developing
Photo by Staff file photo by Sam Yu 

This June 2009 photo shows U.S. 15 running left to right with Willow Road perpendicular at lower right. The Board of County Commissioners voted Thursday to allow the City of Frederick to annex the Crum farm, to the left of Willow Road, and the Thatcher property, on the far side of U.S. 15.

The City of Frederick is about to gain some acres.For more than a year, two large farms just north of the city have been approved for annexation, but the city and previous county officials disagreed on zoning so developers were told they would have to wait five years.

The Board of County Commissioners voted Thursday to end that mandatory waiting period and allow the developers to proceed immediately.

The two farms — known as the Crum and Thatcher properties — total nearly 400 acres. Both are north of the city limits along U.S. 15.

Frederick Mayor Randy McClement was at Thursday’s meeting and called the commissioners’ decision a positive one for the city.

“We need the growth area,” McClement said. “Everything is set in place. We are looking forward to the ability to give our residents an opportunity to stay here and work here.”

The city approved annexation of the land in 2009.

The properties are ripe for development, according to Commissioner C. Paul Smith.

“I think this will be a great benefit for the city,” Smith said. “It had been planned for some time.”

Commissioner Billy Shreve said, “I think it is a good example of planning.”

Before significant construction can proceed, the developers would need to make improvements to a U.S. 15 interchange and other road enhancements.

“I think it takes care of the important traffic problems we have,” Smith said.

Construction at either site is still years away. Both developers will need a year or two to finalize their plans, according to land-use attorney Bruce Dean.

The Crum property, just north of Willow Road, is 285 acres, and the plan is to build up to 1,200 homes and a mix of commercial and retail space, said Dean, who represents both developers. Up to 400 of those homes could be built before the interchange is completed, he said.

The Thatcher farm is across U.S. 15 on Biggs Ford Road. The plan there is to build up to 1.3 million square feet of office space, which could result in thousands of permanent jobs, Dean said.

Both developers are excited to get started, he said.

“The focus was the proximity to Fort Detrick,” he said. “That is the No. 1 economic driver in Frederick County.”

Both companies should have plans developed in the next two years, but there is no way to know when construction could begin, Dean said.

“There is no huge impetus to be building a lot of houses right now,” he said. “It’s dependent on economic factors that are out of our hands right now.”

Commissioner David Gray was the lone dissenting vote.

“Classic sprawl,” Gray said. “Look for problems to come.”

Friends of Frederick County — an activist group opposed to the annexation — filed a lawsuit against the city in 2010. The group alleged the city did not properly prepare for the potential growth and did not complete an appropriate plan. The case is still pending in court, Friends of Frederick County Executive Director Janice Wiles said Thursday.

“I still have the same concerns that I had before,” Wiles said, referring to the dangers of added congestion on U.S. 15 and other factors. “Taking good farmland out of production and sprawling out into the countryside is not a good idea.”

 

10-10-11 Seven citizen groups address 194 land use change proposals with letter to the Frederick County Planning Commissioners

Download letter as pdf file here.

 

 

 

03-07-2011 FNP letter to the editor: The downsides of development

I saw absolutely no reason to even consider repealing a portion of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that relates to schools.

If developers are willing to “promise” that they will cover the cost of new school construction, then what was the point of repealing that part of the APFO?

Our BoCC is supposed to act in the best interest of the citizens of Frederick County — not developers. What possible benefit will the county derive from this action? How will it benefit the average person/family in Frederick County?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions; I’d really like to hear some answers.

The APFO should be made stronger, not weaker. The current APFO already passes a significant portion of the cost of growth on to existing residents. Property taxes continue to increase at a rate greater than inflation. We are tired of paying for development that we do not need and do not want, and angry about being forced to pay for residential sprawl that reduces our quality of life.

Just 25 years ago violent crime was very rare in Frederick and Frederick County. Now, it is a daily occurrence and murders are commonplace. The traffic is ridiculous. Even with the current APFO in place, schools are embarrassingly overcrowded — classes are held in trailers that resemble mobile homes. In short, Frederick County has gone downhill since residential development began in earnest about 20 years ago.

Originally published March 07, 2011

SHERMAN JOHNSON

Middletown