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…

 

1/18/13 FNP editorial on New Market process: Skirting open meetings

Skirting open meetings

Originally published January 18, 2013

By ed

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.

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/opinion/display_editorial.htm?StoryID=145789#.UPmok4njnxY

FNP letter: Handouts to the elite development set

Handouts to the elite development set

Originally published November 11, 2012

County Commissioners President Blaine Young often says that Frederick County is not business-friendly and that the county has been anti-development. The problem with Blaine’s views is that the facts do not accommodate his empty arguments.From 2000 to 2010, Frederick County grew at a rate of 19.5 percent. Only two other counties grew at a faster rate. The state of Maryland grew at a rate of 9 percent. Twenty percent in 10 years is not enough for Blaine Young, because there is so much more money to be made — consequences be damned.

He is not business-friendly, but business-obsessed, and irrationally supportive of welfare for developers, caring little about the consequences his development-at-all-costs policies will have in the future. Frederick County has not been anti-development, and if the county is so hostile to developers, then how did the developments of Spring Ridge, Glenbrook, Brunswick Crossing and countless others occur? If developers are victims of bad policy, then how were they able to accommodate the housing needs of over 30,000 new residents from 2000 to 2010?

Why is Blaine Young so adamant about taking the same exact path that neighboring counties have when it comes to development? When people are sitting in miles of traffic years from now, they will know whom to thank. He seems to care little about current and future traffic congestion, which was highlighted when he decided to lower the tax developers had to pay, which went into a transportation infrastructure fund. The goal for Blaine is to make Frederick County look more like Tysons Corner, and then future generations will have to play catch up 30 years later for transportation needs, as we are seeing in Tysons right now.

Developers may strongly support Young’s policies. The problem is most people in Frederick County aren’t developers and he is accountable to all county residents, not just those responsible for much of his campaign support. Wealthy developers get a tax cut, yet those in need get their services cut.

The future success of Frederick County growth does not depend on the policy of build now, pay for infrastructure later. The county is in an advantageous position because of its location in one of the wealthiest states in the country, its proximity to the base of the federal government and three of the wealthiest counties in the country: Loudoun County, Va., Howard and Montgomery. But that doesn’t mean we have to travel down the same road of growth.

The desirability of Frederick County will be a result of a well-thought-out approach to growth and development, not one in which Blaine Young and developers have free rein, as they have no incentive to combat future traffic and school congestion, but only make money off new construction and do everything in their power to increase their profit margins. I never realized that developers were so impoverished to begin with.

In the next 10 years, do we want a growth rate of 20 percent? Blaine seems more supportive of 40 to 50 percent growth, and radically altering the landscape and character of the county. But as long as his developer cronies are making more money, it’s fine with Blaine.

A growth rate of 19.5 percent is business- and developer-unfriendly? Since when? Of course, for Young, government intervention is necessary not to help the most vulnerable, but for developers looking to increase their profit margins.

For Blaine, benefits for developers are also more important than raises for teachers in Frederick County. Frederick County is the eighth wealthiest county in the state, yet the teachers pay is ranked 22nd out of 24. Doesn’t a successful business environment depend on the recruiting and retention of high-quality educators? Once again, Blaine fails to make the connection. Compensating teachers what they deserve is simple fairness, yet Blaine prefers corporate welfare and developer handouts over providing Frederick County Public Schools teachers with what they deserve.

One would think by looking at neighboring counties that chasing revenue via mass development is not a well-thought-out strategy, unless appropriate transportation infrastructure and uncrowded schools can be realized. By slashing the fee developers had to pay for future infrastructure needs, Young unapologetically indicates that the only thing that matters for this county is more development, and everything else, including teachers pay, school crowding, and well-thought-out infrastructure, will continue to take a back seat to Blaine’s building buddies.

Frank Clements writes from Knoxville.

New Market annexation proposals would nearly double size of town

Originally published October 11, 2012

By Danielle E. Gaines 

NEW MARKET — Town leaders introduced two annexation proposals Wednesday night that could expand the town by more than 397 acres.The owners of a 134-acre plot northeast of town want to annex into the town’s new economic development flex zoning designation. The zoning classification, which became law Oct. 3, allows newly annexed areas to be used for a wider variety of uses than the county currently allows. Development on the land, which is known as the Delaplaine property, could include commercial, office, technology, retail, service and other businesses, according to the law. Additionally, the owners of a 262-acre plot northwest of town want to annex into a medium-density residential zone.

Together, the two plots of land would almost double the size of New Market and allow the creation of a northern route across town by extending Mussetter Road to Md. 75, Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III said.

Burhans said the annexations will increase economic development, ease traffic congestion and add enough residents to build a new elementary school. He said he’s been going door to door to speak with residents about the annexation and answer any questions they might have.

“I’ve met with as many residents as I could possibly get to in the last month,” Burhans said after Wednesday’s meeting.

For several months, the mayor has argued that New Market needs to create a more diverse economy, particularly on county land adjacent to the town. He cites businesses such as the Food Lion and CVS on Md. 144, which are in the county, when arguing that development just outside the town is stifling New Market’s economy.

“We’re a town that’s rapidly becoming a small town surrounded by a larger county town,” he said. “That’s a threat because we don’t get any economic benefit from that.”

The annexation agreements were signed by the landowners this week, and the introduction of the resolutions was added to the council agenda less than five hours before the meeting. No one who attended the meeting spoke against the introduction of the resolutions.

Town attorney William Wantz said the annexation agreements cannot be finalized until a public hearing is held. The council did not decide on a date for the public hearing Wednesday.

The council did debate whether to have more workshops about the proposed development, and Burhans said he opposed too many meetings about the issue.

The 262-acre plot under consideration, which is known as the Smith Cline property, was set to be annexed into the town in 2007, but that annexation was voted down by town residents in a referendum led by Friends of Frederick County.

Burhans said the town had several workshops before that proposal and the meetings devolved into a “circuslike” atmosphere.

In 2011, Friends of Frederick County, a smart-growth advocacy group, sued the town over its expansion plans. In late September, Wantz asked a Frederick County Circuit Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit. A written decision is expected in the coming weeks, Burhans said.

Citizen concerned with Landsdale development precedent

 

Bad precedent

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.

 

DAVE HONCHALK

Monrovia

Landsdale PUD Phase I documents

3:23:12 PART I Linowes PUD APPLICATION

3:23:12 PART II Linowes PUD APPLICATION (traffic study)

7:31:12 Staff Rpt Lansdale DRRA: PUD Phase 1 8:22:12 PC Publ Hearing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:21:12 McClurkin Ltr Landsdale App

8:21:2012 Landsdale PUD Phase I Deficiencies

9:18:12 Mahar Testimony LANDSDALE Traffic

9:18 Mahar Testimony LANDSDALE Traffic CHARTS

 

10:4:12 FINAL Phase 1 revisions Landsdale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAPS LANDSDALE LOS based on SHA growth rates

Jefferson Tech Park (JTP) documents

Documents and background for Jefferson Tech Park (JTP)

 

Sign citizen letter expressing your concern with Keller Farm development

Click here to read background information on the Keller Farm annexation and development plans.

CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBLE GROWTH ALONG YELLOW SPRINGS ROAD

[Letter to Frederick City elected officials]

To whom it may concern:

As residents living in the vicinity of the Keller Farm, we are writing to express our concern with the annexation and development plans for this 302.67 acre property located along Yellow Springs and Rocky Springs Roads, west of Walter Martz Rd. The Keller Farm is part of a rural and agricultural community. To the south is another working farm (Hooper Farm), and to the north are homes at a density of one house for every two acres of land.

We wish to raise specific concerns with respect to the plans to build 500 single family homes and 350 townhouses and condominiums on the property (850 total), possibly including 100 moderately priced dwelling units.

 

Traffic

Yellow Springs Road/ Rosemont Avenue is the only road connecting the neighborhoods around the Keller Farm to downtown Frederick and to US-15. Rosemont is already overburdened with traffic, and is the site of frequent accidents. Most of the available jobs can only be reached by taking US-15 south, which is already disastrously overcrowded at rush hour. The 500 single family dwellings alone will put nearly 5000 additional car trips each week to these already dangerous and crowded roads.[1]

 

We understand that there are 1200 residential units to be built on the nearby Crum Farm, and there are others in the city’s Tier 2 municipal growth plan.  Will there be a combined impact analysis done so that plans can be made to avert overcrowding our roads even further?

 

Quality of Life

Yellow Springs vicinity is a rural community with little crime. Residents love the rural feel of the community and school and the safety of our neighborhoods. We love the farms, trees, creeks and rolling hills, with views of the mountains. Adding a large, overcrowded neighborhood along both sides of Yellow Springs Road will take away from the rural nature of our community and likely bring crime. The areas of Frederick County with the highest density of population also have the highest per capita crime rates. (neighborhoodscout.com/md/frederick/crime)

 

Schools

A school analysis was done and made available by the City of Frederick Planning Department. There is no information on who provided the analysis or when it was done. There has been no analysis provided from the Frederick County Public Schools or from Frederick County, the ultimate voice on school budgets and planning for new schools.

 

We are also concerned that there is virtually no Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) pertaining to schools in Frederick City. The city’s APFO does have a standard for capacity, however if a development project fails to meet that standard it only needs to wait 3 years before it automatically passes the APFO – regardless if it fails to meet the standard.

 

Emergency Services

We do not have data on the ability of our EMS services to handle the new families who would be dependent upon them. Will Frederick Memorial Hospital be able to handle these additional family demands, considering the other developments planned for this region?  It is the only hospital in the immediate community, and expansion of services and sites for the hospital is difficult and costly.

 

Taxes

It has been shown that “increased population generates less revenue for local government than the costs associated with providing infrastructure to the additional residences.  Because costs exceed benefits, tax rates actually increase as population increases, as each new home creates a larger gap between costs and tax revenues.”[2]  If the city officials insist on rapidly growing Frederick, they should require the developers to show, in detail, that the new development will pay for all of its costs to the city and county, so that current residents will not be left with increased taxes as a result of this development.

Public Water and Sewer

We are unclear about the need for an extension of the Potomac River Water Agreement to service this development. What are the criteria by which extension will be allowable?  Who will negotiate this, and when? What scientific criteria will be used to judge that there will not be irreparable harm to the Potomac River?

 

There are plans for significant growth in our area of Frederick City, namely the Crum Farm and other farms within the Tier 2 growth area. Is there an analysis of their combined impact on our local infrastructure, specifically water and sewer capabilities and environmental upgrades?

 

Environmentally sensitive areas

Little Tuscarora Creek, which runs through the Keller Farm property, is one of the few streams in the area to support brook trout, is suitable for public drinking supply, and is an important resource to conserve. Because of this it is classified as a class III-P trout stream. What will be done to mitigate impact upon this important creek habitat?

In Summary

Our summary concern is that there has been inadequate analysis of the impacts of the planned residential development on roads, schools, natural resources and sensitive areas, emergency services, safety – and all other impacts that adding potentially 850 families to our area will have. Subsequent to assessing the impacts we would like to see the plan and cost to mitigate those impacts and be informed by Frederick City about who will be held responsible to pay these costs. We as Frederick City and County residents do not want to be held partially responsible for the costs of these and other impacts for this development with increased taxes down the road.

You may contact Lesli Summerstay when that information is available and we will ensure that it gets circulated. Thank you.

Sincerely,

LIST OF NAMES AND ADDRESSES OF CONCERNED CITIZENS

Please email Lesli Summerstay (jsummerstay@gmail.com) with your name, address and  neighborhood if you would like to sign the letter. The letter will be presented to Frederick City officials at a public meeting on June 11, 2012.

 

CIty of Frederick considering annexation of 302 acre Keller Farm, could build over 1000 new homes

The following entities  have petitioned the city (annexation petition) to annex the 302 acre Keller Farm into its boundaries for development, and on which 4 houses/acre are proposed for build out:

Rand D Weinberg, Esquire, Law Offices of Rand Weinberg, LLC, the Keller Corporation, the Martha W Keller Family Partnership LLLP, Yankee Land Trust, Edward M Johnson and Jeanette W Johnson, Great Southern Investment, LLC (Marvin Ausherman), Julie Ann Castillo and Albert Castillo, the Charles E Keller III Qualified Personal Residence Trust (E Daniel Bittle Jr, SUsan T Bittle, Lexington T Bittle, Kelsie G Bittle).  (Note that Castillo is joining petition as an accommodation to the petitioner but city shall not impose city taxes on Castillo’s property.)  These signatories also represent no less than 25% of the persons who reside in the area to be annexed and who are registered as voters in Frederick County elections.  Those who signed are the owners of not less than 25% of the assessed valuation of the real property located in the area to be annexed.

 

The Farm is located along Yellow Springs Rd and Rocky Springs Rd, west of Walter Martz Rd

The following documents will help citizens understand more about this proposal.

Annexation Petition

  • Pg 2 section 5 of the annexation petition states that the Second Tier follows the boundary of the Potomac River Water Supply Agreement.  When will that PRWSA be extended, and how can citizens be sure that it the amount will be adequate to support this plus the other additional development planned for Frederick County?
  • Pg 4 section 9:  ”the property is subject to the City’s APFO”.  How will the city and county deal with ensuring adequate school space, since the city APFO has a loophole that allows all development to go forward in Frederick CIty (even after failing the APFO for schools) as long as the developer waits 3 years before proceeding?

Comprehensive Plan Analysis

Fiscal Impact Analysis

School needs

Traffic impacts

Water and Sewer Planning Study //Water and Sewer Planning Study – appendices

Christopher Crossing Rds Traffic Study

Additional area traffic studies for Frederick City

Efforts to preserve the brook trout in Little Tuscarora Creek (that runs through the Keller Farm)

Outline for extension of services

Letter given to NAC3 residents on 4/16/12 (page 1)

2-21-12 Public Hearing: Will the BOCC give developers, lobbyists/lawyers the power to negotiate the adequacy of our schools and roads?

Public Hearing tonight: 2/21 @ 7PM

The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is in the process of rezoning up to 15,000 acres of farmland and open space in Frederick County for development.

In the past when projects enter the development process Frederick County has relied on a local ordinance to help protect all citizens from overcrowded schools, roads and overburdened emergency services; it is called the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), and it has been significantly weakened by this BOCC.

But, apparently even the current APFO is a thorn in the side of developers and their lawyers/lobbyists. So on Tuesday the BOCC will hear a proposal to roll it into a Developer’s Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA). The DRRA is an agreement put together by developers, their lawyers/lobbyists and the county that spells out in detail the concessions the developer is granting. With a DRRA we, the taxpayers, will have to trust that the developer and BOCC are looking out for our best interest. If that doesn’t send up red flags, it should!

So, once the BOCC has rezoned thousands and thousands of acres of Frederick County’s farmland for houses and strip malls, what will ensure that there are schools, roads and emergency services for this development? An agreement put together by this BOCC and the developer? Oh my. Keep your eyes open very soon for the most active lobbyists in Frederick County (Weinberg & Miller, Linowes & Blocher, Severn, O’Connor & Kresslein), representing the largest rezoned parcels, as they present DRRAs to the BOCC to develop their properties.

How many windfalls and benefits will this BOCC give to the already wealthy development community on the backs of taxpayers – while they are covering our farms with housing sprawl and asphalt? It seems endless.

A DRRA is a binding agreement that, once signed, can only change if BOTH parties (the county and the developer) agree to do so.

The public hearing on amending the county code to roll the APFO into the DRRA is tonight, Tuesday, 2/21 at 7pm Winchester Hall.