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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dozens speak out on Monrovia Town Center

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/31/2013
Opponents of the proposed Monrovia Town Center were easy to spot at a public hearing Wednesday night — they were the ones wearing Snickers bars fastened to their shirts. The candy bars were a playful reference to a statement made last week by the developer's attorney, who said the proposed 1,510-home development would be a walkable community where people wouldn't need a car to go for a quart of milk or a Snickers. But speakers Wednesday said in their view, the town center is anything but a well-planned project. One Ijamsville resident said when he first moved to his neighborhood, a cloudless night would offer a crisp view of the Milky Way. Since then, light pollution from development in Urbana has obscured some of Wally Melnik's night sky. "If the current Monrovia proposal is approved, I doubt that the Milky Way will be visible at all, one of the many great qualities of life of our rural community, destroyed by a few greedy individuals," Melnik said. The hearing before the Frederick County Planning Commission was the second of three scheduled to allow public comment on the proposed development at the junction of Md. 75 and Md. 80. During a couple of hours of testimony, the speakers repeated many concerns voiced last week, when hundreds flooded Winchester Hall to weigh in on the development. Wednesday night's hearing closed out testimony on the developers' rezoning application. Jim Gugel, county planner, said there are 109 people signed up to comment on the second matter before the planning commission, a long-term agreement between town center developers and the county. Testimony on the drafted agreement is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Monrovia Town Center Hearing Packs Winchester Hall

WHAG
10/30/2013
It was a packed room at Winchester Hall Wednesday night, but despite emotions running high it was quiet. The public was instructed to wave hands, and refrain from cheering and clapping to keep the meeting running in a timely manner. The Planning Commission has heard comments from hundreds who are against the Monrovia Town Center, including more than 1,500 houses, as well as commercial properties. "They want to take basically 1,500 new homes, carve it out from the farmland and dump it next to our community. It's going to more than triple the size of our town," said Steven McKay of Monrovia, the president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion. Residents are pushing for the Planning Commission to say no when they make a recommendation to the Frederick County Board of Commissioners on November 20th. "I'm for sustainable growth, but not over development. Our roads can't take the heavy traffic, there dangerous, now our schools are overcrowded," said Monrovia Resident Stan Mordensky. Hundreds of residents echoed the same concerns, the local schools already over crowded and the roads in no condition for increased traffic.

Maryland planning official says state not responsible for town center density

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/29/2013
Maryland planners are looking to correct the record after a Frederick County official said state smart growth rules are determining the density of a controversial 1,510-home development in Monrovia. The state does not control local growth decisions or decide the compactness of particular housing projects, a Maryland Department of Planning official wrote in an email to the Frederick County Planning Commission. The email’s author sent the correspondence to address “incorrect statements” made at a Wednesday hearing on the proposed Monrovia Town Center. During several hours of public testimony, some speakers objected to the dense housing arrangement planned for the town center and said they would prefer homes spaced out on 1- to 2-acre lots. Planning Commissioner Bill Hopwood responded that the state discourages these large-lot developments. He mentioned that the commission must follow Maryland mandates and said “five, 10 houses an acre, this is what the state tells us they want.” Not so, wrote David Cotton, of the state planning department. “The state has no authority over local zoning. The densities proposed for the Monrovia Town Center project are the result of local zoning and market forces,” wrote Cotton, western Maryland regional planner.

Proposed Monrovia Town Center draws crowds to county hearing

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
10/24/2013
Dottie Hoffacker has lived in Frederick County since sixth grade but said if officials allow a 1,510-home development near her home, “I’m out.” She and her husband aren’t surprised that more homes are coming to Monrovia. Though they would love to “keep the cows and keep the corn” that characterize their community, they said growth is inevitable. But they said the proposed Monrovia Town Center would overwhelm their network of rural roads and crowd their local schools. The couple, their two children and more than 60 others stood on a chilly sidewalk Wednesday outside Winchester Hall to protest the development. Later, as the Frederick County Planning Commission began considering the proposed town center, rally attendees and many others crowded inside, filling the 204-person hearing room and spilling into overflow areas. The speaker sign-up sheets grew to more than 150 names, and county officials said they’d likely need a second hearing to conclude public testimony. After hearing all speakers, the planning commission will decide whether to recommend approval of the project’s rezoning request. The commission members will also evaluate a drafted long-term agreement between the county and developers. Lawrence said speakers who were unable to address the planning commission Wednesday can testify at an Oct. 30 hearing.

Planning commission OKs plan for 147-home Libertytown project

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
09/14/2013
A plan for 147 new homes in Libertytown has area residents talking about the need for a global look at development in the area. The concept plan for the Mill Creek development, situated on about 66 acres along Jones Road and north of Green Valley Road, won approval Friday from the Frederick County Planning Commission. The project that began in the early 1990s has faced numerous hurdles over the years, but it is finally gaining steam, said Ed Wormald, who represented the developer and landowner. However, three neighbors of the proposed project are wary of moving forward too quickly. Many of the roads leading to the subdivision are narrow and rural, and Rustin Gallagher, one of the residents, said they should be improved before more cars are added. Traffic accidents on these roads have already claimed lives, he said. "Mike Fink was killed right there," he said, pointing to a road on the map of Mill Creek. Fink died in a January 2012 collision with a tractor-trailer on Md. 75 near Jones Road.

Board OKs lifting age restriction from Ballenger Run project

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/29/13
Frederick County planning commissioners have granted a request to let people younger than 55 live in the proposed Ballenger Run development. The owner of roughly 197 acres on Ballenger Creek Pike on Wednesday night secured the county planning commission's unanimous blessing to lift an age restriction from the bulk of the project. With the volatility of the housing market, age-restricted communities had become a less viable option for the Ballenger Run development, project representatives said. "It was also very clear from the beginning that this location, with schools all around it ... was much better suited to an all-age community," said Steve Oder, the project manager. Plans approved in 2006 allowed for 970 age-restricted homes on the property just across from Tuscarora High School. The development plans now would include 855 dwellings, a community center, open space, a trail along Ballenger Creek and a roughly 13-acre school site.

Frederick County officials advance Jefferson tech park housing plan

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
08/15/2013
Developers of an 825-home project southwest of Frederick aim to give future residents space to park, store their stuff and plant a garden, but it hasn’t been a simple task. At a Wednesday meeting, county officials talked about whether designs for the Jefferson Technology Park would produce a comfortable community or whether it would create problems. The preliminary subdivision and site development plan ended up passing muster with the Frederick County Planning Commission by a vote of 6 to 1. While much of the planned technology park is devoted to office and commercial space, the roughly 60-acre residential section will include 223 townhouses, 374 condos and 228 apartments. County officials heard that the technology park’s dense layout presented some challenges for planners, like making sure there’s enough room for cars. By Frederick County zoning law, the community must include at least 2,025 on-site parking spaces. The developer’s plan provides 1,243 spaces in driveways, garages and parking lots, 116 shared spaces and another 1,045 spots along the street, for a total of 2,404 spaces.

Commission OKs concept plan for 314-home village

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/11/2013
The first round of drawings and plans for a 314-home development in Ijamsville brought the project one step closer to approval. The Frederick County Planning Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve the concept site plan for building Oakdale Village on roughly 52 acres north of Old National Pike and west of Eaglehead Drive. The property is sandwiched between Oakdale High School and Oakdale middle and elementary schools, and much of Wednesday's discussion related to the potential for worsening the existing traffic congestion during peak hours. Colby Hubble, who said she has lived her entire life on Old National Pike, said cars in the area of the proposed project are at a standstill for about 20 minutes most mornings. "The designer hasn't seen it, hasn't lived it," she told the county planning board. However, representatives of developers Oakdale Properties said the village would be ideally situated near schools and the future Linganore Town Center. "This is a very unique site. I can't think of a better place to put some density and establish a walkable community," said Mark Friis, president of Rodgers Consulting. Planning commissioner Robert Lawrence said he doesn't think the design provides enough access points to the community. Lawrence predicted backups at the Old National Pike entrance.

Planning commission approves Urbana development

Frederick News Post
Kelsi Loos
06/13/2013
Urbana will soon be a lot more developed or a little less green, depending on your point of view. The Frederick County Planning Commission approved the development of 701 homes Wednesday in the Landsdale development along the west side of Ed McClain Road, north of Md. 80 and to the west of Md. 75. The project will add to the first phase of the development plan, which was approved in January and included 200 townhouses.

County approves 20-year agreement for Urbana projects

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
06/05/2013
County commissioners Tuesday gave their stamp of approval to a 20-year agreement with developers of the Villages of Urbana, the Urbana Office Research Center and other nearby building projects. Crafting a development rights and responsibilities agreement is important "so we all understand the ground rules and so investment can be made in the right ways," said Thomas Natelli, president and CEO of Monocacy Land Co. and managing member of other involved development companies. The contract covers the roughly 300-home unbuilt portion of the Villages of Urbana, a large development north of the intersection of Md. 80 and Md. 355. It also applies to the Urbana Office Research Center, the site of the Fannie Mae data center. The Urbana Town Center and Worthington Square projects, slated for 610 and 72 homes respectively in addition to employment and commercial space, also fall under the agreement.

Conflicting Opinions Offered at BOCC Land-Use Hearing

Urbana Town Courier
Kristy Crawford
08/23/2012
The Frederick County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is working quickly to revise the 2010 Comprehensive Plan, which restricted the right to build in some areas throughout Frederick County. On July 31, approximately 75 people attended a meeting at Oakdale High School before the BOCC and the Frederick County Planning Commission, to express often strong opinions on the BOCC’s proposal. Close to 9,000 acres of land throughout Frederick County — largely from Urbana to New Market — and more than 12,000 homes could potentially be developed with the revised plan. The revised plan estimates a population increase of more than 20 percent in the next 10 years.

County officials beginning growth plans with Brunswick

Frederick News Post
Nicholas C. Stern
07/12/2012
County officials interested in aligning the county's growth plans with changes to municipal master plans will begin the process with Brunswick. In a public hearing today, county commissioners will discuss updating the county's principal planning document to coincide with Brunswick's stated planning goals over the next two decades and beyond. That alignment would be dubbed the 2012 Brunswick Community Plan Amendment. Adopted by the Brunswick mayor and council in November, the city's plan reflects projected growth of about 500 acres, according to Bruce Dell, Brunswick's planning and zoning administrator. About 75 percent of the growth is planned for the east side of the city, with the remainder to the west.

Group wants growth costs calculated

Leader estimates county could see 50,000 new residential units by 2032
Frederick News Post
Pete McCarthy
07/12/2012
The leader of a local anti-sprawl group wants the state to calculate the impact Frederick County's proposed land-use plan will have on taxpayers. In a letter to the Maryland Department of Planning, Friends of Frederick County Executive Director Janice Wiles wrote that it would be wise to figure out how much growth will cost if it gets approved

Two named to county planning commission

Frederick News Post
Pete McCarthy
06/22/2012
wo former city planning commissioners will now fill seats on the Frederick County Planning Commission. The Board of County Commissioners conducted public interviews with three candidates Thursday before deciding on William Hall and Dwaine Robbins. Hall also served as a city alderman for two terms beginning in 1992. "I thought all three were good candidates," Commissioners President Blaine Young said after the meeting. "Frederick County citizens will be well-served by these appointments."

Far too far

Frederick News Post
12/28/2011
Commissioners President Blaine Young's recent comment, the one that indicates he will remake the planning commission, is a worryingly arrogant demonstration. His attitude to this board of volunteers carries consequences far beyond the minor annoyances of their recent activism. Young, speaking at a public meeting, implies no opposition will be brooked in his push for zero barriers for Frederick County's building industry: "I can guarantee you, in July, you're going to have a drastically different planning commission." Young and the county board have been at odds over revisions to the county's comprehensive plan, which governs land use over the next 20 years. The commissioners promised to overturn what they considered the previous board's unfair downzonings. The planning commission balked, called the process a sham, and refused to conduct hearings. Now Young is threatening to replace the two planning commission members behind the opposition when their terms are up next year. We assume he means with two pro-growth rubber stamps.