Tony Chmelik ignores the facts and defends poor planning

County Executive Jan Gardner recently released two studies detailing looming taxpayer costs to support the flurry of bad development approvals by the Blaine Young BoCC. The two reports, one focusing on schools and the other on the road network in the New Market/Monrovia area — the epicenter of these development approvals — forecast a need for $500 million in new infrastructure.

And that is just for roads and schools.

It doesn’t include libraries, fire stations and police stations to support the new residential communities. Nor does it include the cost to provide services to these new residents, like teachers, librarians, and emergency services personnel, nor for maintaining the new infrastructure. No, as startling and as dramatic as this estimate is, it is just a portion of the costs to support these new communities. What’s more, I can detail several areas in which the estimate for Md. 75 is actually low. It will cost much more!

I applaud CE Gardner for undertaking these studies. They were desperately needed to begin to understand the impact and future costs of these developments. These studies also underline a fundamental flaw in the flurry of approvals from the last BoCC. Each zoning approval was required to be based on an assessment that the infrastructure is or will be made adequate. RALE and countless citizens argued again and again that the infrastructure wasn’t there.

Moreover, there was really no plan or even vision on how to address the issue. Young’s pipe dream of a development approach relied on vague notions of future tax revenues to pay for everything, ignoring contrary evidence about this approach. While Young worked to ensure the profits of his out-of-county developer benefactors, he turned a blind eye to the crowded schools and dangerous roads created in the process.

So I was greatly encouraged by County Executive Jan Gardner’s presentation. She understands the severity of the situation handed down by the likes of Young, Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter, and she is proposing corrective legislation. Most importantly, this legislation will curtail the Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreements (DRRA) that are at the heart of this problem. It was clear that Jan gets it.

Sadly, Councilman Tony Chmelik doesn’t. At last Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilman Chmelik gave a lengthy monologue criticizing the studies. Listening to him, two things were painfully obvious — Chmelik doesn’t understand all of these issues and he’s firmly in support of Young’s deeply flawed development approach.

I don’t have the space to point out all of Chmelik’s errors in his rambling speech but I’ll highlight a few of them. He claimed that we finally know the cost of fixing Md. 75 and it’s much lower than the estimates some have cited (myself included). None of us know the real cost to fix Md. 75 because a full engineering design study hasn’t been done.

RALEverticalaerialroute75However, what Chemlik misses is that the county and state estimates of $260M or $500M that we have cited, are for different portions of the road than the estimate in this new report. But his biggest gaffe is when he claimed that Monrovia Town Center’s (MTC) Montgomery County developer would contribute half of the $145M in Md. 75 costs cited by the report. I know that he didn’t attend any of the original 13 MTC hearings, but after the council’s own extensive review, it boggles the mind that he could be so wrong in his claim.

He criticized the schools report as being overly pessimistic, with one of his justifications being that some of the houses in these developments may never be built. Seriously, supporting these developments while assuming some won’t be fully built is a horrible planning approach. He was also critical that the cost estimates didn’t account for inflation or expected higher costs for new schools. He’s right. The report also didn’t account for the borrowing costs for construction bonds nor the cost to operate the schools. What he seemed to miss, however, is that all of these factors make the future costs much higher than depicted. All of which will fall to county taxpayers.

Perhaps one of the most ironic statements he made was when he said that the schools report “could not have even been imagined without the existence of the DRRAs.” Wow! You’re correct, Tony. We couldn’t have a report that documents hundreds of millions of required taxpayer infrastructure costs without the DRRAs that created the problems.

Chmelik fundamentally missed the point that the infrastructure to support these developments is grossly inadequate. While he focused on where CE Gardner found the $17,000 for the roads study, he should have focused on where we’ll find the hundreds of millions to fix the problems. Rather than extolling the virtues of these developments as jobs programs, he should be worried about the tax impacts on his constituents. Rather than focusing on a short-term political agenda, he should be worried about the long-term fiscal impact of this looming infrastructure crisis. I know that I am.

This letter to the editor was also published here.

County Executive Jan Gardner’s presentation on residential growth (August 31, 2017)

Roads study

Schools study

Residential pipeline graphic


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