Afzali turns down alternate seat on growth task force

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
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
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.

Afzali passed over for seat on growth task force

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
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.

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

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
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.

County decides to relax stream buffer requirements

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
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.

County considers reducing stream buffer requirement

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
Houses might be allowed a little closer to Frederick County streams if officials decide to relax certain water body buffer requirements. On Wednesday, members of the Frederick County Planning Commission will review drafted amendments to the local rules for buffers. The proposed changes would reduce minimum building setbacks, cut down the required study area around bodies of water and remove special rules that apply in the Lake Linganore area. The county is tackling the stream buffer ordinance as it works through a list of suggestions for making the region more friendly to businesses. Dusty Rood, president of the Land Use Council, said the proposed changes are minor and would make the stream buffer rules more compatible with state environmental standards. However, others think the drafted changes would weaken county laws and lead to stream pollution. The current water body buffer ordinance was passed in 2008, under the board led by Commissioners President Jan Gardner, said Tim Goodfellow, principal planner for the county. Before the ordinance was enacted, the minimum setback was only 50 feet, Goodfellow said. Determining proper setbacks now involves looking at the 175-foot slice of land on either side of a stream or surrounding a body of water. The proposed changes would reduce the study area to 150 feet on each side of a stream, Goodfellow said. The studies examine the slope of the land surrounding the water bodies; for areas with predominantly steep slopes, buildings must sit at least 175 feet away from the water. The minimum buffer is 150 feet where slopes are mostly moderate, and for gentle inclines or flat areas, the setback is 100 feet, Goodfellow said.

Frederick County group eyes farm growth rights

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
The nine people charged with designing a market for selling farm growth rights agree that the new program should be straightforward and promote agricultural preservation. Reaching consensus on the details could be another matter, and time is in short supply. County commissioners gave the work group a November deadline for hammering out a proposed transfer of development rights program. While the group spent its first three meetings discussing options for the program, they still have some knotty issues to untangle, such as whether shifting growth rights would actually increase development rather than preserve farmland. A TDR program allows farmers to sell their subdivision rights to other property owners.

Challenge for builders is finding construction crews

Frederick News Post
Ed Waters Jr.
New home construction is picking up, but builders are finding it challenging to find construction crews. "It's been a long time coming," said Dan Ryan, president of Dan Ryan Homes, "but it has created other challenges." Ryan, whose company builds in six states, said many construction workers left the industry when the economy took its toll on the housing field. "It is a volatile and cyclical industry," Ryan said. Additionally, he said the costs of both materials and labor have increased.

Officials scrap, reduce 202 fees

More than a quarter relate to building, zoning certificate
Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
Many of the reductions affect building or remodeling projects. More than a quarter of them relate to building permits and zoning certificates, while 33 others deal with planning and development review fees, according to the list. An additional 45 reductions were to fees for electricity and plumbing permits and licenses. The changes are helpful to those in the construction business but are minimal when compared with overall project costs, said Frank Dertzbaugh, president of a Frederick remodeling company.

Honesty, deceit and Chicken Little

Frederick News Post
John Helms
Commissioner Blaine Young and his allies began their terms talking about the structural deficit. They said things were so bad that they were forced to cut expenses including firing or eliminating staff. Over 175 positions including professional firefighters were ripped from the base of those providing needed services, cutting $8.4 million. They crippled the Head Start program to the tune of $2.3 million. They reduced payments to nonprofit and noncounty agencies by $350,000 and they reduced pay and benefits for employees (including nurses) at the Citizens and Montevue centers to the tune of $625,000 per year. The sky is falling, watch out for the structural deficit! When they thought we weren't looking, they danced with the ones that brung 'em to the dance (good ol' boy language for the Frederick Chamber of Commerce and the Frederick County Builders Association). They dropped the excise tax rate to zero, saving the developers an estimated $925,000 a year. They reduced permitting fees paid by builders by approximately $500,000 per year. In addition they went right to work on a list of over 200 changes given to them by the builders and developers to fix rules and regulations they didn't like or that cost them too much money. Some warned what was happening.

Frederick commissioners eye change to building approvals

Move would allow developers to bypass planning commissioner on growth-control measures
Katherine Heerbrandt
Builders in Frederick County soon might be able to bypass the appointed body that normally approves development, and instead ask elected officials if their plans meet growth standards.

Mitigation fee

Frederick News Post
After hearing directly from representatives of the local building industry Tuesday, we became convinced their hearts were in the right place when they suggested a new provision that would allow them to pay to build in areas where schools are overcrowded. But they have a long way to go to convince us and, as they acknowledged, other members of the public that the solution they offered is a complete one. Only time will tell. As Steve Seawright said during an editorial board meeting at The Frederick News-Post, "By the time the next election comes around, while things are hopefully better, they will not have changed significantly enough that there will be things people can point to tangibly that says this has been made worse." A stumbling block to public acceptance is that this offer was made out of desperation by an industry in crisis. The national economy has not been kind to home-building, and combined with an overly stringent county growth regulation, has made building new homes in Frederick County almost untenable. As generous as the offer is, it is too self-serving. The regulation's main objective is to let builders build. Any benefits to the educational system seem peripheral to that.

County builders defend school mitigation fee

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
Local building industry leaders on Tuesday defended a recent county policy change that opens the way for development near some overcrowded schools, arguing it could provide a much-needed influx of money for education projects.

Frederick commissioners adopt school construction fee

Move allows developers to pay to build homes near overcrowded schools
Margarita Raycheva
Builders in hard hats applauded Tuesday night when Frederick County commissioners adopted a proposal allowing them to pay a fee so they can build homes near overcrowded schools. The newly adopted ordinance, which goes in effect July 20, would open up the possibility of construction near overcrowded schools as long as those schools are not above 120 percent capacity.

Friends of Frederick County questions development mitigation fee plan

Frederick News Post
The nonprofit organization Friends of Frederick County is questioning whether a proposed school mitigation fee would be enough to cover the cost of needed public school improvements. Executive Director Janice Wiles spoke about the issue Tuesday with three concerned residents and Commissioner David Gray at C. Burr Artz Public Library. She used the Crum Farm development as an example of funds the fee could generate saying it would generate a maximum of $8.35 million while a new elementary school needed to serve the 550 new students would cost $25 million. "That's not even a third of what it would cost to build an elementary school," Wiles said.

Critics of school construction fee worry about overcrowded Frederick County classrooms

Residents concerned that proposal would allow building of homes if schools are overcrowded
Sherry Greenfield
Critics of a proposed Frederick County school construction fee continue to worry that it will not bring in enough money to build classrooms and will only add students to already overcrowded schools. “I know this ... fee is going to pass, I just don’t how it’s going to work,” said Janice Spiegel, long-term parent advocate and former president of the PTA Council of Frederick County. “...I just can’t believe it’s not going to have a devastating impact over what we’ve accomplished.”

Developers looking at overcrowded schools could have option to pay

Frederick News Post
Meg Tully
Developers that want to build in areas with overcrowded schools may soon have an option to pay a fee to help offset the cost of school construction. The fee would be offered as an option to developers building a school addition or waiting until schools aren't overcrowded.