Irresponsible Late-Term Development Rush

On September 11, the Frederick News-Post reported on the Planning Commission hearing on the Tallyn Ridge PUD Phase II approval (a “PUD” is a Planned Unit Development). The Planning Commission approved the PUD despite objections that the important staff documents were available late, and did not allow residents and their attorney to file appropriate materials in opposition to the site plan review.

The members of the Planning Commission ignored those pleas, stating that they didn’t want a delay that would make the developers suffer. As it turns out, doing whatever it takes to avoid any delays for developers has become a recurring theme here in the waning months of this Board of County Commissioners.

And, this Wednesday morning (September 24th), we will witness this rush to approve on a massive and unprecedented scale, when the Frederick County Planning Commission holds a public hearing about a long list of water and sewer amendment requests.

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First, let’s take a quick look at water and sewer amendments. There are many elements to the approval process for residential developments. One of these is the water and sewer classification of the property. There are different classifications, such as No Planned Service (NPS) or Planned Service (PS), and numeric designations that reflect when public water and sewer will be provided, including W5/S5, W4/S4, and so on. These numeric designations are intended to be updated as the development progresses.

Detailed descriptions of the various Water and Sewer classifications are found in the first few pages of the staff report.

Last May – less than four months ago – the hotly contested Monrovia Town Center was reclassified to W4/S4. That classification meant that water and sewer service won’t be provided for four to six years. But this Wednesday, the Planning Commission will be considering a change to W3/S3, which means that service will be provided in less than three years.

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It couldn’t be more clear that the usual and proper process is being ignored in a frenzied rush to get all this done before the end of the term of the current Board of County Commissioners. That has become the top priority — more important than ensuring that everything is done properly to warrant this classification change.

Does the county’s planning staff even know what has been done, and if it has been done properly? Or are they simply taking the developer’s word for it? How would we know, since the commissioners previously made changes to allow developers to inspect their own work, as part of their effort to “privatize” many such government functions?

State law requires the Planning Commission hearing and a finding of consistency with the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Unfortunately, state law can not ensure that the agenda is reasonable or responsible, that the staff recommendations are well supported, that the public has an adequate opportunity to participate, or that the formal approvals will reflect the principles and goals of the comprehensive plan or the public interest.

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Incredibly, there are a total of nineteen separate water & sewer cases being heard and decided on Wednesday. Many of these are associated with large and controversial developments that the current commissioners have approved. They include:

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Under more familiar names, that list includes:

• Monrovia Town Center

• Smith/Cline (New Market annexation)

• Casey PUD (New Market)

• Tallyn Ridge PUD (Reichs Ford Rd)

• Jefferson Park West (adjacent to Jefferson Tech Park)

• Linganore Town Center

• Crumland Farms

• Ratley PUD

• Rayburn PUD

Not surprisingly under the current commissioners, the county staff “recommends the Planning Commission make a finding of consistency with the County Comprehensive Plan” on every single one of these requests.

Here is some important and helpful background about this part of the process, as found in the staff report (please note the last sentence, in bold):

The purpose of the Planning Commission’s review is to determine whether each amendment request is consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan. The Land Use Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland defines consistency with the comprehensive plan as addressing the location, character, and extent of the request. A finding with regards to consistency may reference the comprehensive plan map and the text document, specifically the goals and policies. For properties located within a municipality the municipal comprehensive plan and municipal land use plan designation is referenced.

A finding of consistency does not reference whether a case meets the specific criteria, described in the Water and Sewerage Plan, for the requested classification. That determination is made by the Board of Commissioners in their review.

If the Planning Commission finds a request to be inconsistent with the comprehensive plan then the request is not forwarded to the Board of Commissioners.

Consider how many vested citizen interests will be involved in so many of these cases. Then consider that all of these will be squeezed into a single hearing. Even worse, the hearing has been scheduled for the middle of a workday, when most people can’t attend.

How can the members of the Planning Commission come to a reasonably and fairly considered decision on so many significant developments in a single public meeting?

But that still isn’t close everything being rushed along!

The Planning Commission will also be reviewing two new Development Rights & Responsibilities Agreements (DRRAs), for the Ratley PUD (Hogan Realty Capital) and Rayburn PUD (Hogan Realty Partners), for consistency with the Comprehensive Plan.

I’ve never seen so much of such significance on a single agenda for the Planning Commission, and it is a good bet that it because it has never happened.

And this is only one hearing on a calendar that includes sill more significant actions.

For example, the BoCC is scheduled to review and approve five new Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements on October 9th, in addition to the controversial Blentlinger PUD & DRRA on either October 7th or November 6th – depending on who you talk to.

In my opinion, it all boils down to the county and this Board of County Commissioners purposefully ramming these actions through the process. They have made their promises, cashed the checks from campaign contributors, and are now doing all they can, as fast as they can, to hold up their end of the deal.

Simply put, this is a gross abuse of power. They are rushing these decisions and, in so doing, rushing to saddle taxpayers with decades of road and school problems. Is this what passes as planning for our the future of our communities?

Sadly, in Frederick County, under the current administration … the answer is YES.

But it isn’t real or responsible planning at all!

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Staff report for the water & sewer cases

Rayburn DRRA (Page 3 includes the map graphic)

Ratley DRRA (page 3 includes the map graphic):

Staff report for Jefferson Park West (site graphic on page 4)

RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion on the web.

RALE – Residents Against Landsdale Expansion on Facebook.

@RALEMonrovia on Twitter.