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As Long as We Remember...

January 15, 2008

What’s Behind This Moratorium?

Farrell Keough

To moratorium or not to moratorium; that is not necessarily the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the traffic jams and loss of beautiful landscape, or take action against our development issues and end them…

A recent decision by the Board of County Commissioners to implement a resolution of a broad moratorium has been the talk of the town.

Was this decision made behind closed doors without appropriate input?

Will this decision have far reaching consequences that could damage the Frederick County economy?

Will this decision open the doors to lawsuits which will both cost the taxpayers and prohibit the commissioners from continuing to review the Master Plan?

Or, was this a sound and good policy decision made by our elected officials to look forward and ensure any further development matches the wants and desires of the overall community?

Those questions have yet to be answered. While plans exist for public input, this resolution was voted in the affirmative by four of the five commissioners and will be considered retroactive to the date of its announcement. Previous decisions by this board have had similar circumstances for public input and little was changed during that process. One has to wonder if this is a done deal.

Some of the issues which have not received media attention are worth review. Since this proposal has such far-reaching impacts, it is necessary to look at all aspects.

One of the logical consequences of this resolution is diminishing authority for the Planning and Zoning Commission. In short, this was a power grab.

By vesting all authority over changes and decisions within the Board of County Commissioners, the Planning Commission becomes no more than a file clerk and potential library resource. The implications of this action are serious. The Planning Commission currently has a wide set of views on various issues. By tying its hands, this action has the result of vesting too much power into the hands of a few.

Rather than hearing public concerns, viewing all sides of an issue, arguing rigorously on all sides of a topic, these commissioners have vested themselves with virtual sole authority.

To that end, if three of the commissioners decide an action is something they want to pursue, they have virtually no need to review their assumptions and move forward. In essence, accountability and rigorous debate is no longer necessary for this board to make decisions.

Another, and potentially a more serious issue, is the aspect of transparency. As was noted during the press conference on January 8 to announce this moratorium, no outside input was requested or taken while determining this proposal; nor was their any publication of an open or closed session to work out the specifics of this moratorium.

It is still too early in the process to fully understand the implications of this action. Again, one has to question the real transparency of this Board of County Commissioners.

Another aspect to this proposed moratorium is the potential effect on those who have already submitted plans and jumped through all the hoops. Yes, these are the evil “developers.”

That said, is it reasonable to strip them of their due process and substantial expenditures where they have already received approval? But, the implications are far greater than just a change in rules by government and some segments losing out on their previous approvals.

For instance, a two year moratorium will have serious financing implications. Banks and other lenders will not wait that long only to find the rules no longer allow what was previously approved. Large sums of money spent to receive approval must be recouped.

Will this mean a plethora of lawsuits? Even a handful could potentially devastate this county, not only in lost time to deal with the issues around the county’s Master Plan, but in judgments against the county if they lose the case. Our tax situation is dire. Can we afford a further escalation of lost moneys?

Secondly, will this engender a new business un-friendly view of Frederick County?

While the proposed moratorium does allow business development to continue, many times this is contingent upon further residential development. While this may spur a resurgence in home buying of existing houses, prices have increased substantially and a buyer may well want to buy new rather than spend the additional money to fix an existing residence. These questions are very much up in the air and poorly answered at best, so far.

Also, what will be the effects on our building industry?

This is not the evil developers, but rather our friends and neighbors: those in the construction and building industry; those who sell products to these industries; those who sell and repair appliances and furniture; those who deal in the landscaping industry. The list grows ever larger.

What will be the effects on these people? Will our roads become further clogged because these folks will now have to go out of county to find new prospects? Will some have to close shop? Questions, questions…

Finally, two years is a very long time even for some of the most rigorous of tasks. While this is a huge undertaking, a moratorium should free up staff to focus upon these specific issues. Yet, even with those extra hours, the length of time put upon this proposal seems to be excessive.

And what of the staff currently employed to oversee the building industry?

Will there be layoffs?

Will there be downsizing?

Or will the trend work in the other direction and more people hired to fill in newly found tasks.

As was noted, this action is an effort to take power from the Planning Commission. In June, 2008, two members of that commission will be leaving their positions. Will their replacements be “Yes” people, acquiescing to the commissioners’ wants and desires? Or, will we see replacements who do not tow the line and bring up worthy arguments for and against proposals so the best decisions can be achieved?

While this list of arguments is in no way exhaustive, we need to question the possible implications of this moratorium. Do we trade one set of problems for another? Or do we have rigorous debate and real action and change in policy and direction?

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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