You know what really frosts my…
Many of you may have noticed statements attributed to me from time to time since the current Board of County Commissioners took office to the effect that being a county commissioner is not my idea of a “dream job,” and that I am going to serve this one term and that is it.
It is true that I have stated that often in the past, although I don’t think I am always believed. I stand by that statement and you can rest assured I will not stand for re-election to the Board of County Commissioners in 2014.
But I don’t want anyone to think that my comments indicate in any way that I do not appreciate and respect the honor and responsibility which have been bestowed upon me by the voters and taxpayers of Frederick County. It is a privilege to serve the citizens as president of the Board of County Commissioners; and, although I may at times make certain comments out of frustration with the snail-like pace with which government often moves, I do take great satisfaction in what we have achieved and what I believe we will continue to achieve during our four years.
However, there are certain things that happen in county government that do get under my skin, and which I will never accept, and which I will do everything to reverse. One of those events occurred a week ago at the regular meeting of the Frederick County Planning Commission. As I often do from my office, I watched the live telecast of that meeting, just so I could get a good feel for what is happening with this board, which is often the closest contact our property owners have with county government.
What I saw on TV left me amazed and almost shocked at the extent to which certain commission members demonstrated disrespect and often outright hostility to property owners whose only sin was that they had requested the privilege of bringing businesses, jobs and tax revenues to Frederick County. Then there was the disrespect shown by these commissioners to our professional staff who have worked with these applicants for months to arrive at an acceptable plan that meets all health and safety regulations.
The case that got my blood boiling was an application by a national Fortune 500 business many of you have heard of, known as CarMax. The CarMax people flew in from all over the country to present their plan, which they had worked on with staff for more than six months, and which plan had received the blessing of our Department of Community Development.
CarMax representatives testified that this new facility, to be located on MD 355 between Grove Road and Office Depot, would provide approximately 100 full-time jobs, not to mention over $200,000 per year in county property taxes and a six-figure contribution to county roads escrow funds for future road projects.
Rather than focus on the primary issues involved with any such business proposal, like traffic circulation, environmental concerns, parking and aesthetics (all of which have been addressed to the satisfaction of our professional staff), two members of the Planning Commission chose to spend more than half an hour of everyone’s time talking about bicycle racks. That’s right, how many bicycle racks should be required at a CarMax location that, to my knowledge, sells automobiles not bicycles.
Now, in fairness, it must be said that our current zoning ordinance requires a number of bicycle racks be located at businesses, with the total number to be determined by the Planning Commission at the hearing. The staff had recommended one bicycle rack, with the seemingly self-evident observations that people who purchase automobiles are not likely to arrive at the site on a bicycle, or ride down MD 355 on a bike to do it.
I have yet to see a situation where a used car buyer pedals up to the lot, requests the Kelley Blue Book value on his Schwinn, and drives off in an automobile. The applicant has figured it out (based on the hundreds of other locations it has built throughout the United States). Our staff figured it out, but for some reason Commissioners Catherine Forrence and John McClurkin could not get the light bulb to shine above their respective heads.
The staff recommended one bicycle rack, seemingly as the minimum that would satisfy the code, and at the same time would be one more than is actually needed. That was good enough for everyone: the applicant, the staff, and the other five members of the Planning Commission. However, Commissioners McClurkin and Forrence would not let go, and wanted some unknown multitude of bicycle racks sprinkled throughout the CarMax site, apparently not to be utilized for the actual parking of bicycles, but instead to satisfy their need to burnish their environmentalist credentials. Requiring bike racks at a car lot flies in the face of any measure of logical thought, and to waste professional people’s time and an applicant’s money on the personal social agenda of two people is just flat wrong and should not be a part of any county government deliberation.
What really burns me is that we have four county commissioners and dozens of trained, hard-working professional county staff doing everything possible at the present time to attract new business and new jobs to Frederick County, while we have two Planning Commission members sending a distinct and very loud message that if it were up to them, road block after road block would be set up in the path of our prospective business partners.
County government should send a consistent message that entrepreneurs and risk takers who seek to invest money in this county, to increase our tax base and bring new jobs to the county, will be welcomed with open arms. Provided they meet the health and safety provisions in our code, we should not treat them like they are interlopers, subject to every whim of every individual who has a personal axe to grind or a personal agenda to forward. The current majority of the Board of County Commissioners does not do business that way, and we will expect and demand that our Planning Commission not do business that way either.
Fortunately, the other five Planning Commission members exercised reason and good judgment (and, at times, demonstrated no little impatience with Mr. McClurkin and Ms. Forrence) and the plan was approved.
I would like to take this moment to assure the good people at CarMax that the actions of these two planning commissioners in no way represents the philosophy of Frederick County government, and I personally regret that they had to sit through that harangue.
We will welcome CarMax as a new business partner in Frederick County; and I, for one, look forward to the ribbon cutting where I can apologize personally for these two misguided planning commission members.