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As Long as We Remember...

March 21, 2013

Lies! Part Two

Blaine R. Young

In my last column I was critical of people distorting numbers, statistics and facts to suit their needs. Now I want to focus on the most repeated lie we hear by the opponents of economic development. And that is the oft-repeated refrain: “I am not against growth.”


We hear that time and time again, by people who stand up with their same old tired NIMBY arguments. They want to add some assumed credibility to their diatribe by prefacing their remarks that they’re not opposed to growth, just “irresponsible” or “out-of-control” growth. In other words, they are only opposed to growth in their community, not in yours.


And the one thing that we now hear more than anything else, supposedly to buttress these claims that these people are not opposed to growth, is that they would be more than happy to support residential projects with houses constructed on lots of one, two acres or more. And, believe it or not, I think many of them are serious.


Of course, as most of us know, that type of development is no longer possible in Frederick County, or anywhere else in the State of Maryland for that matter. In the 20 plus years since the original Maryland Smart Growth bill was enacted into law, state government has required that projects respect a minimum density, not be limited to a maximum density. The Smart Growth law mandates – that in order to receive state funds for any infrastructure – a project must be developed at no fewer than 3.5 dwelling units per acre. Obviously, you can’t do that with one or two acre lots.


And unlike some state laws, the penalty of not meeting the minimum 3.5 dwelling units per acre standard established by the state legislature is severe. This is not just a target we are to strive for, it is an absolute requirement, because any region of the county that is developed at less than 3.5 units per acre will not be considered a “Priority Funding Area,” and thus will be ineligible to receive any state money for infrastructure. This includes schools.


That’s right, if we wanted to build a new school in an area developed with these one or two acre lots that some people seem enamored with, we would get no state money toward the school construction. And, the state likewise would not contribute to road improvements, water and sewer improvements, or any other public improvements for which, at least for the time being, we do sometimes receive some state funding.


And, since Smart Growth was enacted, we now have PlanMaryland and the new septic bill, which further limit the ability to do old fashioned well and septic neighborhoods on large lots. It is not only impractical from a cost and land use efficiency standpoint, it is also illegal in Maryland.


That doesn’t stop people from parading to the podium one after the other to demand that the Board of County Commissioners and Frederick County Planning and Zoning Commission approve large lot development. I can’t for a moment think that they are dumb enough to actually believe that it is possible; therefore I think it is just another way to stand up and object to new neighbors moving in down the street.


Frederick County has a long history of responsible land use regulation. Twenty-five years ago neighboring counties permitted development of almost any farm in their county on large lots. Frederick County leaders were pressured by some to enact similar legislation.


The commissioners, which in those days had a strong agricultural representation, consistently and steadfastly resisted appeals to enact large lot zoning classifications. It was the farmers themselves who said that such low density development was a waste of valuable land; their position being that if you are going to convert land from more passive uses to residential development you should get enough housing units out of it to make the conversion worthwhile.


This policy has been consistently ingrained in our land use regulations since 1977. And not only have leaders in Frederick County thought this to be good policy, but recently the top planner at the state level chimed in and agreed.


Within the last couple of months Secretary Richard Hall, the leader of the Maryland Department of Planning, came to Frederick County to testify at a public hearing on the new county septic tier map. During his presentation, Secretary Hall stated that because Frederick County’s land use policies, which require the efficient use of land, have been so successful in preserving agricultural land and environmentally sensitive land, that the county likely is eligible for a complete exemption from the new state septic bill. He could not have been more complimentary in describing Frederick County’s commitment to land preservation, which necessarily means that when we convert land from passive uses to residential uses, we ensure that we get enough density on the land to make the conversion worthwhile.


Yet, there are those among us who, for their own selfish reasons, want to completely destroy our long and proud history of land preservation and promote sprawling large lot developments throughout the county.


I can’t speak for future boards, but I think I can state with confidence that the current commissioners will not give in to selfish bullying tactics, and that we will continue this county’s policy of responsible and conservative stewardship of our land resources.


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