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March 20, 2012

Land Use and Politics A Must See Drama

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

In the age before voice mail, mobile phones and emails, pink memo pads used to be an important staple for an efficiently run business. In those days, the office was a hub for making and receiving calls.


Having entered the world of real estate sales right out of college in 1972, my world was all about two critical tools: a rubber band bound stack of index cards filled with the names of prospects, and a paper clipped pile of “While You Were Out” telephone message slips.


Leave town for a week or so, and that inbox on your desk would be full of pink notes.


Fast forward to today, and it seems that it really doesn’t matter what part of the world one travels to, staying in contact is literally a cell phone or iPad “touch” of the screen away.


However, there are still some places where the ease of communication is not possible. Earlier this month I escaped with a good friend to the southern reaches of South America in Patagonia, to brave the challenges of yet another whitewater rafting adventure.


Happily for me there was no cellular, Internet or telephone service. It’s good to purposely lose touch with the world on occasion… much better than what is likely facing me in later years as my mind disintegrates with age.


Upon my return there were plenty of email messages to keep me busy for several hours, but it was the local news that I always find the most fun to catch up with. It’s like catching up on several episodes of your favorite television drama or reality show all at one time.


Seems about the time I headed south, the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners, under the guidance of its President Blaine Young, choose to take over some authority from the Frederick County Planning Commission. Commissioner Young and his majority apparently believe that the current member make up of the Planning Commission is more of a hindrance to his business-friendly theme for the county.


Specifically, with proposed land development applications, the board will now determine if a project meets the growth-control standards included in the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO). The shift will not change any of the requirements of a land developer to comply with the ordinance. It is a means of “simplifying the process, but not easing the requirements,” according to a statement in the Gazette made by Steve Oder, of Cavalier Development Consulting.


Cries of foul play and outright anger roared from Planning Commission members Bob White and Richard Floyd, both former unsuccessful county commissioners candidates.


The Planning Commission will still be required to review, comment and make recommendations on any land development site plan, but Mr. White claims that without his body’s ability to address the APFO issues, there will be a loss of the necessary checks and balances in the process.


Two other county commissioner candidates who were defeated in the last election have chimed in as well. Kai Hagen ranted that “just because they [Mr. Young, Billy Shreve, Kirby Delauter and Paul Smith] won an election doesn’t give them a mandate,” and Frederick’s own Chicken Little, Janice Wiles, stated that only “the planning commission has the expertise,” to address matters concerning adequate public facilities. She claims that while the Young board has crafted and approved recent changes to the related ordinance, “this board” does not have the expertise to cast judgment on such… “it’s just bad government.” Huh?


Commissioner Young and his majority have defended their actions as a means of streamlining approvals for business and development. Enforcement of the county’s growth control standards will remain in the hands of the Community Development Division of County Government. Its director, Eric Soter, stated that the shift will not change the fact that land development projects will still have to meet all the same tests as before.


While the board’s actions have won praise from most in the business community, including Chamber of Commerce President Rick Adams, the lone dissenter on the board, as always, remains Commissioner David Gray. His rage reached another boiling point this past week when he blurted out in a public session that he was tired of President Young’s “show-off garbage,” calling him “a damned liar” and a bully.


These outbursts of frustration are not unique for Mr. Gray, as he generally disagrees with nearly everything there is about his adversaries – Mr. Young, and his three comrades.


In future episodes of Frederick County’s one and only political reality show, it will be very interesting to see what the board does with its new APFO authority once it appoints new members to the Planning Commission this summer!


Change is hard for those who have lost control of the situation, and that seems to almost always be the case after every election. The worries over who is now in charge really overshadow the bigger issue of the structure of our county government. Is all this noise signaling that it is a time to seriously consider Charter Home Rule as a more effective way for our community to be governed?


So, upon return from the wilderness, what would have been the message on my “While You Were Out” pad?


Nothing new… same old drama.


Rocky Mackintosh is president of MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland


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