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.

Report: Seniors want more transportation options

Frederick News Post
Kelsi Loos
11/23/2013
Frederick County seniors want more transportation options as some of them age out of driving, according to a report from the county's Department of Aging. About 16 percent of licensed drivers, almost 647,000 in Maryland, are over 65, according to Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman Buel Young. Some of those seniors may voluntarily give up driving if they notice their ability is not what it used to be. The MVA may also deny licenses to people of any age who have medical conditions that make it unsafe for them to drive. “It's a big issue, it really is, because Americans are tied to their cars,” Frederick County Department of Aging director Carolyn True said.

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.

Solarize Frederick County news

Frederick News Post
11/20/2013
As a special initiative of the Frederick County Green Homes Challenge, Solarize Frederick County aimed to increase installation of residential solar electric and hot water systems throughout Frederick County with volume purchase discounts and local incentive grants. To take advantage of these incentives, residents had to sign up for a solar assessment during the time — limited enrollment period and wrap up all contracts by Sept. 30. Sixty-nine households took advantage of the program. The households are installing 72 solar energy systems — 66 solar electric systems and 12 solar hot water systems. The households participating in Solarize Frederick County will be installing a capacity of 547 kilowatt (kW) equivalents; that equates to the production of approximately 656,400 kilowatt-hours each year. The Frederick County Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources began informing residents about the Solarize initiative in late 2012. Nearly 500 households expressed interest in the program; of these, 308 attended Solarize informational workshops, and 347 requested solar assessments of their homes.

Realtors oppose real estate transfer tax

Frederick News Post
Michael Kurtianyk
11/20/2013
We read with interest Saturday’s editorial (“Underrepresented on growth”), and we want to make clear that the Frederick County Association of Realtors opposes a real estate transfer tax because it would hurt homebuyers and sellers of existing homes — as well as buyers of new homes. In a typical transaction involving existing real estate, the buyer and the seller split the cost of a transfer tax. In a new-home sales contract, the buyer typically shoulders the full cost of a transfer tax. However, impact fees, like all construction costs, are reflected in the sales price of the home. Thus, they are financed through the buyer’s mortgage over years or decades. A transfer tax is due as cash at property closing, and in this fragile home market, both buyers and sellers would be greatly affected.

Lake Linganore residents band together on water quality

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/19/2013
When Lake Linganore resident Betsy Smith looks out the window after a storm, she watches the land around her acting as a “huge water filter.” Plants and soil slow the flow of rainwater and help remove sediment and pollutants before the runoff reaches Lake Linganore and surrounding tributaries, she said. The filtration step is important not only for preserving water quality, but also because sediment can build up and reduce the lake’s capacity. But Smith and her neighbors are concerned that planned development in the area will replace these vegetated areas with paved surfaces, she said. “We just didn’t see how it could work to do all of the development right there in that really big water drainage area,” she said. Smith has expressed her opinion at public meetings, she said, but she doesn’t feel her voice has been heard by county leaders. So Smith and some of her neighbors decided to band together. In late October, they filed the articles of incorporation for a new group called Cleanwater Linganore Inc. Smith is president of the nonprofit’s five-member board, all of whom live in the Lake Linganore area.

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.

Environmental panel to feature Myersville resident

Frederick News Post
11/17/2013
Myersville resident Ann Nau will be one of several panelists with Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s nine-stop tour across Maryland, including Hood College on Monday. The panelists will address pipeline infrastructure, such as the proposed Myersville compressor station. Nau is vice president of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, a grass roots group organized to keep Dominion Transmission Inc. from building a gas compressor station in the small west Frederick County town. Nau has argued that DTI's proposed 16,000-horsepower compressor station is less than one mile from the Myersville Elementary School and would emit 23.5 tons of nitrogen oxide per year, risking lives. The panelists are protesting a new network of infrastructure — pipelines and compressor stations — to transport natural gas from fracking operations to Cove Point that will shipped to overseas markets. Large “energy companies benefit when communities like ours don't connect the dots between their plans and our health,” Nau said in a recent letter to the editor. “In the case of Dominion's $3.8 billion plan to liquefy and export natural gas from its Cove Point facility on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, you can bet they hope Frederick County residents don't (connect the dots), because we could pay a particularly high price,” Nau wrote. A recent MIT study found that Maryland has a higher death rate due to air pollution than any other state, resulting in the premature deaths of 113 out of 100,000 people per year, Nau said. Dominion's plan — to pipe across Maryland, liquefy and export nearly 1 billion cubic feet of gas from Cove Point every day — is a great deal for big gas corporations, but a lousy deal for Marylanders, Nau said.

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."

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.

Wiles fan sorry to see Friends leader stepping down

Frederick News Post
Peter Currer
11/14/2103
I was sorry to read in The News-Post that Janice Wiles will no longer be the executive director of Friends of Frederick County. I would like to publicly thank Janice for her many years of dedication and service to Frederick County. Janice has been a staunch advocate of thoughtful and controlled growth in Frederick County. This approach would allow us to develop and support growth with adequate infrastructure (roads, schools and public services). I will miss seeing Janice at the many Board of County Commissioners and Frederick County Planning Commission meetings that she has historically attended. Should she move to a new community, they will indeed be fortunate to have such a thoughtful and dedicated member of their community.

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.

Proud of citizen involvement

Frederick News Post
Jan Gardner
11/10/2013
Congratulations to the hundreds of residents from the Monrovia area who have participated in the planning commission public hearings on the proposed Monrovia Town Center. This is “democracy in action.” Citizens have a right to be heard. Monrovia residents are raising their voices loudly but thoughtfully. They have done their homework, raised legitimate issues, asked honest questions and deserve to have their concerns discussed and addressed. I watched the planning commission meeting on Wednesday and was embarrassed and saddened by the mistreatment and rude behavior toward these citizens by the planning commission, specifically during cross-examination. Citizens deserve to be treated with dignity and respect even if they are presenting an opinion that planning commission members and the developers disagree with. Citizens should be welcome and encouraged to participate in their government. Unfortunately, citizens were ridiculed, shut down mid-sentence, and actively discouraged. I have watched hundreds of public hearings over the past 20 years and have never witnessed such negative treatment of the participating public.

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 city officials limit LLC campaign donations

Frederick News Post
Jen Bondeson
11/08/2013
Business owners will now all be limited to the same standard when they make donations to candidates in city of Frederick elections, whether they own corporations or LLCs. The Frederick Board of Aldermen approved an ordinance Thursday that limits the amount of money an owner of multiple business entities may donate to a mayoral or aldermanic candidate. The limit is the same as it is for individuals and corporations that donate: $2,500 to an individual mayoral candidate, and $1,000 to an individual aldermanic candidate. The change comes after owners of multiple LLCs used the LLCs to donate beyond the maximum corporate donation to two mayoral candidates, Delegate Galen Clagett and Alderwoman Karen Young. When noticing the donations, the city's Board of Supervisors of Elections and the aldermen asked city staff to draft an ordinance, calling it a loophole in the law. When drafting the ordinance, the city's legal department mirrored the language in a new state law. The General Assembly passed a law this year that limits the owners' donations. It takes effect in 2015. The city decided Thursday expand the law even further than the state, at the suggestion of Alderman Michael O'Connor.

Planning Commission hearing a debacle

Frederick News Post
Catherine Forrence
11/06/2013
Developers and their attorneys expect certainty in the land development process. Fair enough. We all like to know the rules of the game. Part of the zoning and subdivision process involves appearing before the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission’s Rules of Procedure provide certainty, and are issued to assist in the “orderly and efficient conduct of all matters with which the Commission is concerned.” Before the second public hearing on the Monrovia Town Center rezoning, I sent an email to the Frederick County Planning Commission and staff highlighting two sections of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure: §6.2 “Any person is entitled to appear and be heard by the Commission before it reaches a decision on any matter” and asked how cross-examination will be handled, as permitted by §6.9 “The Chairman will allow reasonable cross-examination of witnesses at a time and in a manner considered reasonable by the Chairman under the circumstances.” Prior to the Oct. 30 Monrovia Town Center hearing, I provided a copy of the Planning Commission’s Rules of Procedure to the Planning Commission’s chair, and asked whether the commission planned to follow their rules? No response. The county attorney announced the Planning Commission would not allow cross-examination, even though it is permitted by their rules! During the hearing that evening, a number of speakers asked and received no response from the commission when asked to follow their Rules of Procedure.