|Nonprofits object to Frederick County land-use plan rewrite
Originally published September 07, 2011
By Bethany Rodgers
Bumper-to-bumper traffic and tax increases could arise from a current effort to rewrite the county land-use plan, leaders of two local nonprofit groups said Tuesday.Estimating that more than 10,000 acres of farmland and open space could give way to housing if rezoned or reclassified under a new comprehensive plan, the organization Friends of Frederick County predicted the result would be an influx of cars on the roads and children in schools. The current comprehensive plan, adopted last year by the previous board of commissioners, doesn’t need an overhaul and offers ample space for growth, the nonprofit representatives said.
“This has everything to do with our quality of life,” Janice Wiles, executive director of Friends of Frederick County, said of the land-use plan. “Once things are rezoned É it just changes the whole nature of our county.”
The current effort by county commissioners to revisit the comprehensive plan began earlier this year.
Commissioners President Blaine Young said he wanted the rewrite because the 2010 land-use blueprint stripped value from a number of properties through “downzoning” them, increasing limitations on development of the land. Young has said he’s looking to restore the lost value as commissioners revise the plan.
While Young has said he’s not interested in rezoning properties left untouched by recent county comprehensive plans, all landowners were free to submit requests. The county reported receiving 196 applications for new zonings and land-use designations, with concentrations in the New Market, Urbana and Frederick regions.
Friends of Frederick County’s analysis of the applications showed that granting the requests could pave the way for construction of more than 23,000 homes, possibly translating into upwards of 12,700 school-aged children.
At a meeting Tuesday morning, Wiles and Kai Hagen — a former county commissioner and leader of the nonprofit organization Envision Frederick County — said the county doesn’t have the roads or schools to accommodate growth in all of the areas under consideration for rezoning or land-use designation changes. That means officials would have to raise taxes to fund infrastructure improvements, Wiles said.
The previous board’s 20-year growth plan allowed for the construction of about 36,000 new homes, covering what state population estimates indicate the county might need for that period.
Commissioner David Gray, who was the only board member to vote against a rewrite — although Commissioner Kirby Delauter was absent for the decision — said changing the document is unnecessary and happening too quickly. The current schedule has the board adopting changes in early 2012.
“I hope we will slow down,” he said at the Tuesday meeting with Hagen and Wiles, adding that there’s no pressing need to push through the revisions.
However, in a phone interview, Young said the previous comprehensive plan snatched money from landowners.
“They think it’s OK with a stroke of a pen to take away someone’s hard work and life savings, and they don’t think they should be compensated in any way, shape or form,” Young said of those who would stick with the 2010 document.
In addition, growth will inject money into the local economy by stimulating jobs. Far from worsening the problem of funding shortages for infrastructure, development can help provide a solution by generating money from fees and taxes, Young said.
Hagen takes issue with the claim that changing the comprehensive plan will encourage job growth. Just because a new plan would benefit developers doesn’t mean it is good for the entire business community, he said.
“Developing in the wrong place is not good job-creation,” Hagen said.