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December 27, 2011

The Land Planning Game Show

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

Playing politics with land use and comprehensive planning often leads to a “farce.” It’s been nearly 45 days since the Frederick County Planning Commission voted to “Cease and Desist” its review of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan as requested by the Board of County Commissioners.


After watching the video of the November 17, 2011, hearing in Urbana in disbelief more than once, I could not help myself, but to transcribe the full text of how this planning board conducted itself that evening. This is a body that was mostly appointed by the 2006 Board of County Commissioners (Jan Gardner, Kai Hagen, John L. “Lennie” Thompson, David Gray and Charles Jenkins).


Claiming to be so experienced in Art of Comprehensive Planning, I found first 32 minutes of the meeting to play out more like a comedic game show.


It was a meeting that did not end that night, but continued to play out in The Frederick News-Post with charges from County Commissioner President Blaine Young and a response from four of the Planning Commission members.


You be the judge, here. Paring this down from 5,000 words to this two part version wasn't easy, but let me what you think.


Does this body make you proud?




Planning Commission Members: John McClurkin, Chairman; Robert Lawrence, Secretary; Catherine Forrence, Audrey Wolfe; Robert White Jr.; Richard Floyd, vice chairman; Assistant County Attorney Michael Chomel; County Planning Staff member Jim Gugel and Director Eric Soter.


Chairman McClurkin opens the meeting requesting comments from members:


Forrence: How ya doin’?


White: Ha Ha!


Forrence:… You know I’ve been up here for … this is my last year … and ... I swear I lie awake at night … and I have something to say and I get here ... and I don’t say it. But I’m going to say it today … about this rezoning process that’s under way … there was a campaign promise [by the current Board of County Commissioners] … We went through [the 2010 comprehensive plan] word by word … and the Gardner board adopted it …[the] current Board of County Commissioners … decided that they were going to make changes to the land use … with a stroke of the pen … that’s their prerogative ... [but] … there was nothing wrong … the Board of County Commissioners can’t impose the Planning Commission to undertake a rewrite of the comprehensive plan … the staff hasn’t presented and we haven’t asked the staff to give us … impact studies that would show that any kind of changes to land use … we have no idea … you know this idea that this a comprehensive rezoning, just because we are opening up the process to everyone … it has nothing to do with the policies of what we are trying to do here ...


McClurkin: Okay, you want to take a pause for a moment?


Forrence:… See, I wanted to say that for so long, and I finally said it! … obviously the Board of County Commissioners can initiate a rezoning process, but I don’t think that we need to participate anymore … so that’s what I wanted to say and I don’t know if anyone else has anything to add …


White: I don’t want to get into the politics of it. The Board of County Commissioners is a political entity … but we are not a political entity. We are a planning entity … and Ahhh … comprehensive planning and zoning is our charge.… last night I felt I was in Wonder Land … things were turned upside down … in order to do good planning …you need really extensive data … know how to grow properly and in the right context … without the information …It just doesn’t work … for anybody..… this is a travesty… It is not planning in the proper way … It doesn’t mean that we should … get involved in a charade ...… so I would like to ... make a motion that we discontinue the current proceedings … just back out the idea of any kind of comprehensive planning and rezoning … that is a motion.


Forrence: … I’ll second that, but I just want to clarify … that this was never defined as a comprehensive plan rewrite … So, I just wanted to clarify that … I don’t think that the comprehensive plan was ever up for … being a part of our rewrite, or part of this process …


White: Whatever we are involved in at this point … it is not comprehensive.


Forrence: I second that motion ...


McClurkin: Okay, we have a motion on the floor from Mr. White ... Second from Ms. Forrence … Mr. Chomel…


Forrence: Well, we’re in the middle of a motion, are we …


McClurkin: We can ask for a legal opinion during the discussion part of the motion.


Forrence: It’s a rezoning.


Chomel: Under 66B … you don’t have any role in the zoning process … under the county code you have a role in comprehensive rezoning … to make a recommendation to the Board of County Commission. You are also authorized, under article 66B, to recommend a comprehensive plan or an amendment to a comprehensive plan …. You are holding a hearing on a proposed comprehensive rezoning and look at the comprehensive plan … those are kind of a parallel processes … what you do is your decision. But by failing to act, you do not stop the process.


…to be continued on Thursday's


Rocky Mackintosh is the owner of a land and commercial real estate firm based in Frederick. He is also the editor of the MacRo Report Blog.



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