Background, Process and Benefits
One hundred million dollars is not enough? That's what some would have you believe in the current debate about the proposed Monrovia Town Center.
This proposed project totals approximately 450 acres. It is planned for approximately 1,500 homes, a regional shopping center, a fire station, and a school/park site of approximately 80 acres to be donated to the county. In addition to the dedication of land for the school, park and fire station, upon the build-out the developer will be writing checks and make land donations to the county that will total approximately $100 million for the school and road improvements. That is the way development is done in Frederick County today.
This project is not a new idea. In 2006 the property was zoned for 1,608 housing units, which was planned as an age-restricted community. As such, the proposal did not include the transfer of a school site to the county by the developer – at no cost to the county.
After the zoning was approved, which the developer was more than happy to proceed with, an election occurred and a new Board of County Commissioners came in and decided to remove the zoning from this property. This was done even though the developer had spent millions of dollars after the property was zoned – in reliance on the zoning – and, needless to say, he was not too happy about it.
What resulted was a $50 million lawsuit against the county, which I distinctly remember because I was serving my one year with the prior board when all of this happened. Right in the middle of the ongoing process to steal this man’s zoning and render his property essentially worthless, outside attorneys hired by the county briefed the commissioners on the prospects of the pending lawsuit.
To say that the county’s lawyers were concerned is an understatement. In fact, based upon a briefing from these lawyers, the board voted unanimously to delay a vote on the down-zoning to give the lawyers time to attempt to settle the lawsuit with the developer.
Settlement discussions proceeded. The first effort was an offer from the county to approve a Planned Unit Development with 500 homes, all on the west side of Route 75. This offer was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Kai Hagen, David Gray and myself approving, and Commissioners Jan Gardner and John L. “Lennie” Thompson opposed. This offer did not result in a settlement.
At the prodding of the county’s lawyers, the commissioners tried again. The next proposal discussed was to approve a project of 875 units, again all on the west side of Route 75. This offer was never communicated to the applicant because it was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Hagen and Young in favor of the settlement, and Commissioners Gardner, Gray and Thompson opposed. Therefore, the litigation proceeded.
Six months later, there was another election. This time, the commissioners expressed an interest in restoring property rights which had been confiscated by the prior board. The lawsuit was put on hold to allow the developer to present a plan that would meet with the approval of this new board of county commissioners.
The initial plan presented by the developer to the county called for a maximum of 875 units, all on the west side of Route 75. This was the same proposal favored by Commissioner Hagen in an effort to settle the lawsuit. However, by this time, county staff, in conjunction with Frederick County Public Schools staff, was very interested in securing a site for the next high school to be built in Frederick County. The developer was requested to revise the plan to more closely resemble the original plan, which crossed Route 75, and donate approximately 80 acres of the land on the east side of the road for the use as a high school and park site. The developer agreed, and that is the plan that is going through the process at this time.
I also think it is important for Frederick County citizens to understand the context of the Monrovia Town Center. This is not being proposed to open up a new growth area. This area of Monrovia, which has two state highways serving it and water and sewer available, was first proposed for development years ago. It is in what I like to call the “bread basket” of Frederick County, which starts in Lake Linganore, proceeds south through Monrovia and Urbana, and hooks up with the Ballenger Creek growth areas along Route 355 and 85. This is a small percentage of the county, and it is planned, designed, and it has the utility services for the vast majority of the future growth which is planned for the county.
Remember, that the Comprehensive Plan adopted by the prior Board of County Commissioners assumed we would build 1,500 new homes per year. We are not doing anywhere near that, and recently have not even achieved half that number. But it makes sense to plan for the future, and show current and future residents where the development will be and what it will look like when – and if – it finally arrives. But it is many, many years down the road.
Also remember that much had changed in this county since this land was first zoned eight years ago – changes to the tune of $100 million dollars, counting the value of the 80 to 90 acres being donated. Not counting the first nickel of development costs. We are talking $100 million in checks (and donations of land) written to Frederick County for the privilege of providing housing for people who want to come here, just like many of the opponents of this town center project did not too long ago.
This project has generated much discussion and debate. I fully and completely respect the rights of citizens to disagree with me and to state their views as publicly and prominently as they wish. I look forward to hearing from many of them during the multiple public hearings that we will have on this project.
But I really hope everyone is courteous, respectful to all and sticks to the issues. That way we will have a fair, honest and open debate.