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Advertise on the Tentacle

April 1, 2013

Same ol' Same ol' from Same Direction

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

In a replay of the ideological battles of decades past, a group of concerned parents/residents have banded together to fight Winchester Hall. Over the years, the alphabetic alignment of the acronym has changed, but the background is stunningly similar.


This time it happens to be Residents Against the Landsdale Expansion (RALE). Reminiscent of the "glory days" of the battle of land developers and the parents of school-age children, the two founders of RALE sound just like former Alderman Donna Kuzemchak and former County Commissioner Jan Gardner.


They were called the "Mommy-mongers," an appellation initially offered with derogatory intent. The Mommy-mongers themselves grew to embrace the term, along with the populist appreciation that launched two successful political careers. Since this was in the days before social media, they did their work the old-fashioned way, with phone calls, copiers and blast emails.


Back then it was school overcrowding that filled public hearings and master plan review sessions. Now it begins with road adequacy, a far less compelling basis for social justice rallies. Flashing photos of children, bundled in winter attire, being herded into and out of portable classrooms, the previous growth opponents also had a strong ally in the Frederick County Teachers Association.


The teachers union was happy to fight growth that might contribute to overcapacity classrooms, since teachers are affected when dealing with large and unruly classes. When you get the teachers union involved, your little movement becomes a well-funded and organized protest.


The website of RALE identifies their objectives:


"Let us first state that we are not against land development, but are asking for responsible growth and responsible fiscal management of the growth from our Board of County Commissioners (BoCC).


“Our schools, roads, water and sewer, pollution and public facilities such as parks, libraries and emergency access will all be effected by the large amount of growth with several different building projects that are to take place. There are several developments that will directly effect this area. These developments are Landsdale, Monrovia Town Center, Rt 75/Rt 355 site, Urbana, Oakdale project, and New Market.


“Over and over again, we have asked BoCC where the money is going to come from and asked for promissory notes from the developer for these monies, or for an escrow account that holds the money until the developer is released from his (new) 25 year DRRA (Development  Rights and Responsibilities Agreement) to ensure that the community that already exists in Monrovia does not carry the financial burden for improvements needed. This would also ensure that the county would not be on the hook for any improvements needed and keep the “Responsibility” portion of the DRRA truly in keeping with the nature of the community’s needs."


The words above come directly from RALE's website, without edit or modification.


If this sounds familiar, these same issues and principles have driven the objections of any group or organization that has ever objected to new residential or commercial growth.


Often fueled by people who have immigrated here from Montgomery or Fairfax County, the refrain is substantially the same. The new people that are coming here will degrade our quality of life, crowd our schools, burden our highways, and fill our playgrounds.


These activists claim the county should adopt restrictive growth policies, or require full payment, up front, for any and all improvements necessary to facilitate this inevitable in-migration.


They take great umbrage when confronted with the following: "I was not given the chance to reject your opportunity to move here, in spite of the fact that I was here before you came. Had I taken the steps you take now, you wouldn't have been able to be here at all!"


That statement dramatically oversimplifies a deeply emotional and technically complicated issue, but it highlights a fundamental political dichotomy, and raises the specter of growth as a political issue in the upcoming county executive election slated for 2014.


The current Board of County Commissioners has established a reputation as growth advocates, and that's being kind. Their policies, while being driven by their stated desire to create jobs, have had the affect of inspiring renewed focus on stalled commercial and residential developments.


For the people who have moved into the Monrovia area in eastern Frederick County, that means that the 75/80 Dragway property is finally moving forward. If you build houses, condos, strip malls, or big box retail, then this discussion means increased property values, construction contracts, and economic opportunity.


If you drive through there to get to and from work, the store or school, then this probably means congested roads, limited commuting options and longer lines. The school capacity argument pales, at least a little, when the drop in student enrollment over the last few is fully analyzed. That said, no parent wants their child to attend school in a large classroom.


Friends of Frederick County (FoFC) is already energized to assist the people from RALE, since both groups mission statements seem to have been prepared by the same writer/mentality. Conversely, the county builders and land developers are gearing up to take full advantage of the opening created by a growth-inclined county board.


As we transition from our current commissioner form to the new charter form of government, the personalities of the various candidates for office will emerge and align with growth philosophy most easily associated with their campaign.


The no-growth or slow growth crowd, including RALE and FoFC, will be looking for someone like Jan Gardner or Kai Hagen, who as former commissioners were celebrated for their desire to gain some control over development.


The pro-growth group will mostly be waiting for Commissioner Blaine Young to decide between his rumored gubernatorial aspirations and that of county executive. Waiting in his shadow, fellow Commissioner Billy Shreve pines for a shot at the new top job at Winchester Hall.


Either Mr. Young or Mr. Shreve should satisfy the pro-growth crowd. It's safe to assume both will carry on with the approach of the last four years.


The sad thing is that instead of transitioning to a more thoughtful and deliberate form of countywide governance, this insures that we'll get more of the same – and coming from the same opposing forces.


The answer, if there really is one, can be found in a quote from Aristotle: "The virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom."


Here's hoping a future county executive demonstrates moderation in designing future growth policy, and that voters apply wisdom in their electoral choices.


If not, it won't just be Monrovia we mourn.


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