RALE: Town center study underestimates increased traffic

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/28/2013
A report commissioned by Monrovia residents states that a transportation study for a proposed 1,510-home development in the area is riddled with flaws and underestimates the traffic that would be created by the new housing. The group of residents who oppose the Monrovia Town Center project has sent the analysis to officials with the Maryland State Highway Administration. The group, Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, also requested a meeting with state transportation officials before Frederick County commissioners begin deliberating on the town center project planned near Md. 75 and Md. 80. In his letter to the SHA, RALE’s president, Steve McKay, wrote that the development as planned would put drivers at risk. “It is difficult to imagine that there will not be serious adverse safety consequences that result from adding the amount of unmitigated traffic to Md. 75,” McKay wrote. “These safety concerns have been underscored by 11 hours of testimony by well over a hundred residents over the course of three nights before the Frederick County Planning Commission — many recounting first-hand accounts of severe traffic accidents on Md. 75.” After the series of recent meetings, the planning commission recommended approval of the developer’s request to rezone 457 acres from agriculture to planned unit development. The commission members also voted favorably on a proposed agreement between the county and developers.

City reverses Citizens-Montevue subdivision

Some now hope county will reconsider sale
Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson
11/27/2013
The Frederick County Board of County Commissioners will need to retrace its steps when pursuing the privatization of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living facility. The city's Zoning Board of Appeals voted Tuesday to reverse the city Planning Commission's decision to subdivide the land. The land the centers sit upon must be subdivided from the rest of the parcel they are on in order for the county to sell the land and privatize the centers. The Board of County Commissioners voted this past summer to privatize the centers. A planned sale to Millersville-based Aurora Health Management, which is now operating the centers, is not yet final. The plan has faced opposition from residents and members of the centers' former board of trustees, who think the centers should continue to serve as public entities serving low-income residents. The board of trustees was dissolved in June when the county commissioners voted to move forward with the sale of the two facilities. In its decision Tuesday, the board agreed with the one former board member and two residents who appealed the Planning Commission's decision in a few ways, stating that the county's application was not complete, and the commission should have considered the intent of the subdivision and how the county's plan for the land would affect city residents. The commission erred when considering the incomplete application, erred in failing to evaluate whether the plan conflicted with the city's comprehensive plan, and erred when thinking that that they were restricted from asking the county its plan for the land, said Jim Racheff, zoning board chairman. The zoning board voted unanimously to vacate the approval of the subdivision, and remand it back to the planning process.

Oath of office?

Frederick News Post
Russell Harris
11/22/2013
In my senior year at Virginia Tech, I joined the Order of the Engineer. As part of joining this group, I took an oath that states, “I am an engineer, I have an obligation. My obligation has become my desire. My desire is to apply the Golden Rule, our code of ethics, to the technical knowledge of the world by persuasion. My desire becomes the yardstick of my professionalism and lastly that my professionalism means to me that I will never again ask myself the question, ‘How much do I get out of it?’ but rather I will ask myself the question, ‘How much can I give?’ The symbol of the desire to be a giver is the Engineer’s Ring. The ring will say to all who see it, ‘Here is an engineer, possessed of a publicly avowed dedication to his profession and the public it serves.” Now I may be wrong, but I would imagine that public officials, such as the planning commissioners and the Board of County Commissioners, would take a similar oath in which they are appointed to serve the public and not themselves. As I watched and participated in the public hearing for the Monrovia Town Center, it did not seem that the planning commission was thinking about what was best for the public that they were appointed to serve, but perhaps what was best for them.

Officials look for legal guidance on outside pay for county executives

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/22/2013
State Sen. David Brinkley said he plans to ask for legal guidance on whether someone who owns a business, collects retirement benefits or earns other private income could serve as Frederick County executive. The Frederick County charter set to take effect next year stipulates that an executive cannot "participate in any private occupation for compensation," and as election season heats up, some are wondering exactly what those words mean. After a meeting with Frederick County commissioners Thursday, Brinkley said he doesn't think the charter writers meant that an executive can't earn any income outside the $95,000 annual salary that comes with the office. "If it was interpreted in the broadest sense, no one would qualify," Brinkley said. "Or at least, I wouldn't want a person in there who has no dividends, interest, retirement or any type of income from any other source. That's just unreasonable." Brinkley began asking questions about the employment restrictions after hearing Commissioners President Blaine Young discuss the issue on his afternoon radio show. Young is considering a run for the county executive post in 2014, but wouldn't relish sacrificing ownership of several businesses.

Commission votes favorably on Monrovia Town Center rezoning

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/21/2013
After three nights of public testimony, the Frederick County Planning Commission on Wednesday weighed in favorably on a rezoning request that would allow the advance of a 1,510-home project in Monrovia. Three members of the planning commission opposed a recommendation to approve the rezoning application filed by developers in the Monrovia Town Center project. Their “no” votes reflected their doubts that road networks around the proposed project could handle an influx of new residents. Four planning officials voted in favor of giving a positive recommendation to the rezoning request, saying the developers were meeting legal requirements with plans to fund transportation improvements. In a second decision, the planning officials voted 5-2 that a proposed agreement between the county and town center developers was consistent with the county’s overall growth plans. “For me, the main concern is the road network,” said Commissioner Dwaine Robbins, who cast an opposing vote on both matters. “It meets the letter of the law, but just in my gut, it don’t feel right.” The votes capped off a series of meetings that started last month and has drawn hundreds of Monrovia residents to Winchester Hall.

Vote set on Citizens, Montevue land next week

Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson
11/19/2013
Frederick County commissioners could be forced to take a step backward in their mission to privatize Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living facility. The city of Frederick’s Zoning Board of Appeals is to make a final decision Nov. 26 on whether the city’s Planning Commission was justified in May when it approved the county’s request to subdivide the centers’ land. The county asked to split the 41-acre site into two parcels — one with Citizens and Montevue, and the other with the remaining buildings. The land must be subdivided to move forward with the sale of the centers. After the Planning Commission voted to subdivide the land, commissioners voted to privatize the centers. A planned sale to Millersville-based Aurora Health Management is not yet final.

Monrovia residents say impact fee elimination would be developer boon

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/17/2013
Critics of a 1,510-home project in Monrovia are asking whether talk of changing county growth policies will lead to letting developers off the hook for millions in school construction fees. The proposed Monrovia Town Center is projected to add 840 students to surrounding schools, and county law requires the developer to put up an estimated $20.6 million in impact fees to expand classroom space for the newcomers. Opponents of the Town Center project say the impact fees will fall far short of paying for even one new school. However, they also worry that if county officials eliminate impact fees, this developer contribution for schools will drop to zero. "Instead, the costs will be borne by county residents," Steve McKay, a Monrovia resident, testified at a recent public hearing. County officials and community stakeholders are set to start brainstorming next week on the best ways to deal with growth in the county. The group has formed amid discussion of eliminating the county's impact fees and replacing them with a transfer tax levied when properties are sold.

Afzali turns down alternate seat on growth task force

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/17/2013
Maryland Delegate Kathy Afzali on Friday rejected an invitation to serve as an alternate member on the county task force discussing local growth issues. She had previously volunteered to join the work group, but Sen. David Brinkley asked Delegate Galen Clagett to take a seat on the panel instead. Brinkley questioned Afzali's impartiality on the issue of creating a transfer tax, an idea she has said she opposes. Clagett, D-District 3A, is unable to attend Tuesday's kickoff meeting of the task force, so Brinkley on Friday sent Afzali an email asking her to represent the Frederick County legislative delegation for that day. But for Afzali, R-4A, serving as an alternate wasn't going to cut it. However, she said she will attend all task force meetings as a member of the audience. "Delegate Clagett doesn't have the time to devote to this very important topic," Afzali said. "I do have the time because I will be there. So maybe it's just time to appoint me the representative on the task force for the delegation."

Unbalanced task force

Frederick News Post
Steve McKay
11/17/2013
Since Commissioners President Blaine Young announced his intent to rid the county of the dreaded impact fees, I have been trying to pay close attention to this subject. After all, those dreaded impact fees are an important source of funds to mitigate all of the massive infrastructure challenges being created by the county’s drive to develop, particularly here in south county. So it was with some concern that I read The News-Post’s article of Nov. 12 headlined “Afzali passed over for seat on growth task force.” In all my efforts fighting against the Monrovia development, I can count on one hand the politicians that have raised their voices in our support, and Delegate Kathy Afzali is one of them. She has been a vocal supporter in our fight against Monrovia Town Center, and against excessive growth in this part of the county. She and Delegate Michael Hough came out to our meeting in Urbana, and we had a very constructive exchange. She even stood up and testified against the development at the planning commission hearing. She is doing her job and representing her constituents — us! So I was dismayed at Sen. David Brinkley’s comments in the paper that day. First, I found the comments very unprofessional, considering that he was speaking about a fellow legislator from the same district and party. Beyond that, however, I was dismayed that he would choose Delegate Galen Clagett, someone so clearly aligned with the development community, to participate on this task force, which is already so clearly biased toward the developers. Make no mistake, this task force is going to recommend ways to make the developers pay less for the impacts that new developments have on our roads and schools. Who will make up the difference? You and me, the taxpayers. Blaine Young wants to abolish the impact fee. For Monrovia Town Center, that represents 60 percent of their contribution toward new schools. When the impact fee is gone, under the terms of the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement they have proposed, the developer will be completely off the hook for over $20 million! Under cross-examination at the third of four days of planning commission hearings on Monrovia Town Center, the applicant’s attorney, Rand Weinberg, confirmed as much.

Underrepresented on growth

Frederick News Post
11/16/2013
The growth task force, recently formed by the Board of County Commissioners to investigate ways for development to pay for its impact on our schools, roads, water and sewer supplies, and other infrastructure, lacks a broad enough membership to deliver a comprehensive and fair solution. Groups represented include the Frederick County Association of Realtors, Frederick County Building Industry Association, Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, a municipality, and the senior, education and library communities. Elected officials from Frederick County’s delegation of state delegates and senators will also serve — it was the choice of precisely who from that delegation would join the task force that caused some contention earlier this week. Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Republican who represents northern Frederick County, was rejected as a participant by a fellow Republican, Sen. David Brinkley. Brinkley instead selected Sen. Ron Young, a Democrat, and delegates Patrick Hogan (R) and Galen Clagett (D). While we understand the argument that Young, Hogan and Clagett represent districts that include the city of Frederick, an area naturally suited for more growth, we also understand Afzali’s position that she represents Monrovia, an area in which the debate over development is current and controversial. “Afzali is about Afzali and not a solution to the problem,” Brinkley told reporter Bethany Rodgers. Yes, Afzali has an annoying tendency to want to grab headlines, but she makes a good point about the task force’s composition: It has a clear bias toward developers, builders and real estate agents. While we understand that those representatives are some of the key industries affected by either a transfer tax on the sale of existing homes or an impact tax on the sale of new ones, what the group lacks is representation from county residents — the taxpayers — who also have skin in the game.

County files motion for judgment on Citizens, Montevue case

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/13/2013
Attorneys for Frederick County have asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit aimed at blocking the sale of a county-owned nursing home and assisted living center. A motion for summary judgment filed last week argues that county commissioners have the authority to make policy decisions, such as whether to privatize Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. The document submitted to Frederick County Circuit Court also asserts that a 185-year-old deed does not bar the county from disposing of the facilities. The court has not yet scheduled a hearing on the motion, but a attorney representing the county said they want to resolve the lawsuit expeditiously.

Afzali passed over for seat on growth task force

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11122013
A state delegate who raised her hand to join a Frederick County growth task force was passed over for appointment after a fellow legislator questioned how “fair and open” she would be on the panel. Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4A, argued she would bring a much-needed perspective to the growth group because her constituents in the eastern areas of the county are among those most affected by local growth issues. In a Nov. 4 letter, she asked Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, to put her on the county-led task force. In response, Brinkley challenged Afzali’s impartiality on the question of creating a transfer tax to fund infrastructure improvements. In a Monday phone interview, he attributed Afzali’s interest in the work group to a desire for publicity. “Afzali is about Afzali and not a solution to the problem,” Brinkley said. Despite Afzali’s request for the task force assignment, Brinkley offered the opening to Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, and Delegate Patrick Hogan, R-District 3A, before finally naming Delegate Galen Clagett to the work group. Afzali said her goal is to represent district residents who have concerns about development in the county. Controversial development projects such as the Monrovia Town Center heavily affect her constituents, she noted. Clagett, D-District 3A, represents the city of Frederick, where building does not generate as much opposition, she said. “I’m the one who’s fielding the calls from irate citizens who are going to have the traffic jams and the noise and the safety issues from this kind of growth,” she said.

Development and death in Monrovia

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/08/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young says he doesn’t remember telling a woman concerned about a 1,510-home development in Monrovia that she shouldn’t be worried because “you’ll be dead by the time everything comes together.” But Monrovia resident Kathy Snyder (the woman who was supposed to take consolation from her limited life span) says she recalls the conversation clearly. Snyder offered her version of events Wednesday, when she joined dozens of others at a public hearing on the Monrovia Town Center. According to Snyder, her March interaction with Young went something like this: She and her husband walked up to the county commissioner during a building industry exhibition at the Frederick Fairgrounds. Snyder said she wanted to ask Young to keep an open mind about the Monrovia Town Center, since many area residents opposed it. “How old are you?” Young asked (according to Snyder). Snyder paused, was taken aback, didn’t know what to say. “He said, ‘Listen, you don’t have to worry about all this development. … You’ll be dead by the time everything comes together,’” Snyder, 50, recounted. Snyder said she walked away from the conversation insulted and troubled by Young’s attitude.

Frederick County work group to discuss impact fees, new transfer tax

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/05/2013
The unanimous decision followed discussion about eliminating the county’s impact fee and replacing it with a transfer tax levied when properties are sold. The Maryland General Assembly would have to authorize the change, so recent efforts to swap the fee with a tax fizzled without support from a majority of Frederick County’s legislators. Delegate Kathy Afzali said creating a new tax on home sales would further depress the county’s housing market. “We’re hungry for buyers,” said Afzali, R-District 4A, who has worked in real estate. “If anything, we should try to figure out how to cut costs for buyers.” But Commissioners President Blaine Young said it’s not fair to rely only on new construction to drum up funds for infrastructure improvements. Developers pay impact fees of $15,185 for each single-family detached house, $13,089 for townhouses or duplexes, and $2,845 for other residential units. The costs are typically rolled into the cost of a new home and passed on to the buyer. The fees, which brought Frederick County almost $7.2 million in fiscal 2013, are intended to fund construction of additional library and school space to serve the new communities.

State warns 1 cent storm water fee is "insufficient"

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/03/2013
Frederick County's 1 cent storm water fee could end up costing tens of thousands of dollars in fines, state environmental officials recently warned. A Maryland Department of the Environment review determined the county's fee would be "insufficient" to pay for the water cleanup efforts required by a state-enforced permit. The fee of 1 cent per eligible property is estimated to raise $487 annually for county water programs. "We believe that this level of funding will be insufficient to support the people, programs and projects that will be necessary for the county to meet its obligations under the Watershed Implementation Plan and the new MS4 permit that we expect to issue to your county next month," stated an Oct. 25 letter written by Robert Summers, the state's environmental secretary. The county could get slapped with fines of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of its storm water permit, which is in the process of being renewed, the letter continued.

County decides to relax stream buffer requirements

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/01/2013
The legally required swath of trees and shrubbery separating Frederick County's homes from its streams is becoming 25 feet slimmer. Commissioners voted Thursday to relax the county's stream buffer ordinance, a "modest change" that they said would have little effect on the county's waterways. Allowing homes closer to county streams opens up a bit more land to developers, giving them more flexibility in site design as they deal with state environmental requirements, county staff said. "Really, we see this as a jibing of county standards to harmonize with the state standards," said Dusty Rood, president of the Frederick County Land Use Council. However, local residents, environmental groups and former County Commissioner Kai Hagen all said they believed decreasing the required stream buffer size would endanger area water quality. Hagen said county's current leaders have shown a pattern of elevating developer interests above other considerations. "They said, 'Jump,' and you jumped," Hagen told the board of commissioners.

A missing balance

Frederick News Post
Fred Ugast
10/23/2013
The Frederick County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at Winchester Hall this evening regarding the proposed Monrovia Town Center development at the intersection of Md. 75 and Md. 80 in the southeast portion of the county. The hearing before the planning commission is the penultimate step in the approval process for a 25-year Development Rights and responsibilities Agreement that will allow for the construction of 1,510 new dwelling units and a small commercial center just west of Md. 75. Coupled with the already approved 1,100-unit Lansdale project adjacent and just west of the proposed Monrovia Town Center, this quiet area of rural subdivisions and large lots is projected to grow from a population of around 700 within a 1-mile radius to over 7,700. If approved, the character of the area will certainly be transformed. Some residents undoubtedly would prefer to leave things the way they are and it’s hard to blame them for feeling that they have no say in something that could profoundly change their everyday lives.

Gray: More of the same coming from this BoCC

Frederick News Post
David Gray
10/08/2011
We are coming to the end of the third year of a developer-controlled majority of the Board of County Commissioners. You might think their anti-environment, anti-education and budget-depleting gifts to their friends and contributors would begin to subside. Not so. There’s more coming — and soon. ----- There is one year left for this BoCC majority to undermine good planning and give county funds away for developer interests, and other special friends like Aurora healthcare. As a commissioner now for 19 years I have never seen a group of elected commissioners who so blatantly favor their personal and special interests over the citizens and future well-being of this county. I am disgusted to witness these and prior actions of the last three years that leave a legacy of environmental neglect, growing bills and future tax increases, in the millions, to be shouldered by Frederick County taxpayers.

Arguments heard in comp plan lawsuit against county

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/23/2013
A legal challenge to the county's long-range growth plan should be tossed out of court unless commissioners made an error of constitutional proportions, county attorneys argued Tuesday. On the opposite side of the courtroom, attorneys contended that judicial oversight of local government extends beyond the limits of the state and federal constitutions. During a court hearing that stretched into early afternoon, debate centered on whether a judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed against the county. The plaintiffs, including a number of county residents and the nonprofit Friends of Frederick County, take issue with how and why commissioners changed the comprehensive plan, a document officials use to map a 20-year course for local growth. Rather than considering the county as a whole, commissioners simply eased development restrictions on a handful of properties, the plaintiffs argue. The underlying reason for making the changes was to increase land values, an improper motivation, according to the complainants.

City's appeal board reconsidering Citizens, Montevue subdivision

Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson
10/23/2013
The members of Frederick’s Zoning Board of Appeals are considering whether to reverse the city Planning Commission’s decision to subdivide Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living Facility. Subdividing the land allows the Board of County Commissioners to proceed with selling it and privatize the centers. On Tuesday night, the board heard a May 7 appeal of the Planning Commission decision from Frederick law firm Powell Flynn, filed on behalf of Janie Denn and Kathleen Murphy, who live near the centers, and Charles Trunk III, former chairman of the Citizens and Montevue board of trustees. But no decisions were made Tuesday; the board continued the item to another hearing. About 40 residents attended the appeal hearing, often scoffing when the county and city attorneys spoke. On behalf of the appellants, attorney Paul Flynn of Powell Flynn said Tuesday that when considering the subdivision request, the Planning Commission should have considered the potential sale of the land, and should have realized the impact the subdivision and sale would have on the community. The county’s application was also incomplete at the time the commission approved it, making it defective when filed, Flynn said. When approving the subdivision, the Planning Commission members stated that, because they were approving a subdivision request only, the potential sale and use of the land were not in their purview. The Planning Commission made several errors regarding their analysis of the case, Zoning Board of Appeals chair Jim Racheff said. Racheff said the commission never bothered to ask the intent of the subdivision, and it seems from their testimony that they did not feel they were allowed. Because they did not think they could ask of the intent, “they just simply didn’t consider any of these elements” of whether there are mitigating factors on the impact of the land. Racheff said that the Planning Commission erred when considering the code. There should have been a lot more delving into the issue, said board member Gail Colby.