Letter to council president Bud Otis about three major developments

The following letter was sent to Frederick County Council President Bud Otis, from seven local organizations.

EXCERPT: “It is difficult to see how the Livable Frederick process can be effective in this part of the County if these three massive greenfield developments are not substantively considered during the comprehensive planning process.

We therefore request that you and County staff carefully evaluate the best land use recommendations for these three projects irrespective of their current development status. In our view, the 2010 Comprehensive Plan findings and more recent information about their impacts clearly makes it essential that you do so.”


February 17, 2017

Cleanwater Linganore
Envision Frederick County
Friends of Frederick County
Land and Cultural Preservation Fund, Inc.
Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, Inc. (RALE)
Sierra Club Catoctin Group
1000 Friends of Maryland

Mr. Bud Otis, President
Frederick County Council
Winchester Hall
12 E. Church Street
Frederick MD 21701

Dear President Otis:


We are writing to convey our appreciation for the County’s commitment to a Livable Frederick and the comprehensive planning process that has been initiated to achieve this goal. As a broad-based coalition of organizations representing the views of our members, we see this process as the most effective means of safeguarding the County from the impacts of overdevelopment that have plagued neighboring jurisdictions. We are heartened by the overwhelming support expressed by citizens engaged in this process for the preservation of farmland, open space and natural and historical resources in the County.


At the same time, we are deeply concerned that planning efforts may be thwarted by three major developments approved by the prior administration under Blaine Young: the Monrovia Town Center, Casey and Blentlinger planned unit developments (“PUDs”). These major developments, located in the Urbana and New Market Planning Regions, if built would have severe and adverse implications for the entire County. Together they include 1,308 acres of open space and farmland, and have been approved for 2,987 new homes.

These developments all rely on MD 75 for access. There are no reasonable prospects for meaningful improvements to MD 75, which has unsafe stretches of roadway and severe capacity constraints. These developments will generate nearly 30,000 car trips per day, most of which will directly impact and further degrade service on MD 75.

Using the County’s projected 2.7 persons per household (and 1.67 persons per age-restricted household), these new developments equate to 7,422 new people. County documents confirm that this additional population would include 588 new elementary school students, 300 new middle school students, and nearly 400 new high school students.

These developments won’t occur in isolation. They are only the most egregious part of a series of developments in this region approved by the Blaine Young BoCC (“Young BoCC”). The expansion of the Linganore development, Landsdale, Talyn Ridge and Smith/Cline (Calumet) [1] projects now underway are already adding nearly 6,000 homes, 60,000 car trips, and several thousand students to the region. The County will face severe challenges in addressing the public infrastructure required to support these current developments. The addition of Monrovia Town Center, Casey and Blentlinger will certainly push us over the brink.

The adverse traffic and school impacts of these three developments are compounded by environmental concerns. An extensive 2014 environmental analysis of the Casey and Blentlinger properties confirmed that several tributaries to Linganore Creek and Lake Linganore originate or flow through the Casey and Blentlinger properties, including Bens Branch, Hazelnut Run and Cherry Run. These all are designated as Class IV-P (i.e., they are of such high quality that they support recreational trout), and consequently feed very high quality drinking water into Lake Linganore. High density development will seriously compromise the water quality of these tributaries.


It was for these reasons that the 2010 Comprehensive Plan returned these three properties to agricultural classifications. The 2010 Comprehensive Plan was adopted after extensive staff analysis, voluminous written submissions, and over 100 public hearings. The Ordinance adopting the Comprehensive Plan made explicit legislative findings in support of restoring MTC’s agricultural land use designation including:

• Improvements to MD Route 75 between I-70 and I-270 by SHA are not reasonably probable of fruition in the foreseeable future;

• Water resources and other infrastructure are not adequate to accommodate the extent of residential growth previously anticipated on the MTC property; and

• An Agricultural/Rural designation best provides environmental protection for land and water resources.

These findings would apply equally to the Casey and Blentlinger sites.


A mere two years later the Young BoCC reversed these fact-specific determinations by rezoning the MTC property through a zoning map amendment, and also without any factual basis reversed the zoning on the Casey and Blentlinger properties. It did so without amending the 2010 Comprehensive Plan or in any way demonstrating that the legislative findings in support of the 2010 plan were unjustified.

Far worse, the Young BoCC sought to divest any future County Executive or Council, for a period of 25 years (six terms), of their authority over these developments by entering into so-called Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (“the Young DRRAs”). By their express terms, the Young DRRAs purport to exempt these three projects from any changes to future County laws, regulations or policies. These laws include those governing “comprehensive zoning,” “impact fees” and “excise taxes,” “environmental protection” and “adequate public facilities.”


Because of the limitations imposed by the Young DRRAs, without any further action the cost of mitigating the significant traffic, public school, and drinking water impacts of these three developments necessarily will shift to County taxpayers. [2] Fortunately, the Maryland General Assembly anticipated circumstances of this kind and confirmed the police power of local authorities even where a DRRA is in effect. This power authorizes a local government to protect the “health, safety and welfare” of its residents from hazardous roads (MD 75 as a prime example); substandard public schools; and contaminated sources of drinking water, among many other risks associated with overdevelopment.

In some cases, these threats may be overlooked or ignored at the time a DRRA is adopted. In other cases, these threats may arise or first be recognized after the execution of a DRRA. In any case, Maryland law authorizes local governments to terminate a DRRA (after a public hearing) or to apply later enacted laws, regulations and policies if deemed essential to do so.


The Casey and Blentlinger projects cannot pull permits until 2020. The MTC project has been remanded to the Circuit Court for further consideration, following the applicant’s refusal to comply with the Council’s remand procedures. Allowing these three developments to move forward without further analysis raises the serious prospect that public health, safety and welfare would be compromised in the many ways confirmed by the 2010 Comprehensive Plan process.

It is difficult to see how the Livable Frederick process can be effective in this part of the County if these three massive greenfield developments are not substantively considered during the comprehensive planning process.

We therefore request that you and County staff carefully evaluate the best land use recommendations for these three projects irrespective of their current development status. In our view, the 2010 Comprehensive Plan findings and more recent information about their impacts clearly makes it essential that you do so.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Betsy Smith
President
Cleanwater Linganore, Inc.

Kai Hagen
Executive Director
Envision Frederick County

Janice Wiles
Board President
Friends of Frederick County
Land and Cultural Preservation Fund, Inc.

Steve McKay
President
Residents Against Landsdale Expansion (RALE)

Daniel Andrews
Chairman
Sierra Club Catoctin Group

Kimberly Brandt Local Policy Director
1000 Friends of Maryland

cc:

Ms. Jan Gardner, County Executive
Frederick County Planning Commissioners
Mr. Jim Racheff, Chairman, Livable Frederick
Mr. David Whittaker, Chief of Comprehensive Planning
Ms. Wendy Kearney, Sr. Assistant County Attorney

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Smith/Cline is within the Town of New Market, but the Young BoCC approved accelerated zoning changes, water/sewer approvals, and agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding for the New Market Bypass which leaves the County responsible for long-term road maintenance and at risk for a road that may not be completed for decades, with significant adverse impacts on MD 144.

[2] Note: The Court of Special Appeals has reversed the Blentlinger DRRA on the grounds that the County did not receive any “enhanced” public benefits in the form of infrastructure or other improvements beyond standard APFO requirements. It is unclear at this time if the Court’s decision will be appealed.


Envision Frederick County
Court of Special Appeals Overturns Blentlinger DRRA!
February 3, 2017
by Steve McKay