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As Long as We Remember...

December 13, 2012

A Living Legacy in Housing Growth

Blaine R. Young

In November 2010 five Republicans were elected to the open seats on the Frederick Board of County Commissioners. I stated at the time, and continue to believe today, that 2010 was the first election in memory that was not mostly about growth and development. I still believe that.


Since that election, and thanks to what I perceive as serious overreaching by the O’Malley Administration in Annapolis, growth has become more of a statewide issue than ever. With PlanMaryland, the septic bill, the “rain tax” and other statewide growth control initiatives, the state is steadily, and likely permanently, inserting itself into growth issues that were once the province of local governments.


This is a step backward for transparency and local involvement in land use decisions; but as long as the liberal Democrats remain in control in Annapolis, we will continue to see policies designed to stop growth in the rural counties and force more and more of us to live in already congested urban areas.


During the 2010 campaign, four of us who ran together as a slate – Paul Smith, Billy Shreve, Kirby Delauter, and I – made our position on growth in Frederick County very clear. On September 26, 2010, we released our “manifesto” on growth and development. In an op-ed piece published by The Frederick News-Post, we made it crystal clear that we were not running on a platform to open up broad new expanses of land for development. We went so far as to state that we had very little quarrel with the comprehensive plan then in effect, which was approved by the Gardner/Hagen/Thompson/Gray Board, and which called for 1500 homes to be built per year.


Our concern, as we express in that News-Post piece and throughout the campaign, was the unfair singling out of a handful of property owners for downzoning and thereby potential financial ruin.


We have kept out word. In the recently completed comprehensive plan, we did take action to restore property rights that had been stolen from some of our fellow citizens. I will stand by these decisions to the day I die.


But we did not, as some suggest, open up broad new growth areas for future residential development. The large developments that are now being processed through the county are in growth areas that were established by the Gardner-led Board of County Commissioners, and other boards prior to it. The fact that developments are being approved does not – as certain “friends” would have you believe – mean that thousands of new homes are going to sprout overnight. The homes will be built when the market dictates they can be sold, and in areas long planned for residential development.


And what we are seeing now with applications for development projects in the county is something which will actually work to take politics out of land use in Frederick County for the foreseeable future. The use of the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) is a land use tool which has been authorized by the General Assembly. What this means is that a project, when approved, can get a certain amount of assurance that it won’t be changed as a result of future elections.


The result of the DRRA’s should be that the growth areas long established for future development will now be more permanently defined, and will not be subject to alteration at the whim of newly elected politicians seeking to please a narrow constituency. It should also mean that there will be far less reason for future boards to consider expanding growth areas, as there will be – in actuality now – a true “pipeline” of new homes, which will be a real pipeline and not the fanciful pipeline touted by our “friends.”


Again, any government can approve any number of homes with the stroke of a pen. However, to transition from the pen to the shovel is an entirely different matter. That will not occur until the economy improves and presents the appropriate market conditions. When that happens, thanks to entrepreneurs now investing and taking risk in our county, consumers will have significant choice as to where they want to live, and with competition among builders for customers, should also come price competition.


The old rules of supply and demand may actually apply once again to the housing market in Frederick County, when developers have certainty as to the number of homes they can build, and the market is not overly impacted by the restrictive policies of government.


At its peak more than 2500 new homes were being built per year in Frederick County. The last few years have been closer to 600 to 700. It likely will be a long time before we have another building boom.


However, what we should have is some stability and certainty in the housing market for years to come, and if that is a lasting legacy of the current Board of County Commissioners that will be just fine.


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