Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The cost of sprawl.

Hello fellow bloggers! I wanted to post a letter Will recently wrote for the Frederick News Post regarding a recent push to rezone two large farms north of Frederick (Maryland) city limits for development.

This rezoning was an initiative pushed through at the last minute by the outgoing mayor with very little public input and a LOT of misinformation.

Will's letter was in response to a letter in the editorial section of the Frederick paper from a lawyer attacking those opposed to this rezoning and the County's new Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for how the county should develop land to meet anticipated needs over the next decade.

Many people don't realize or think about the implications of suburban sprawl, but its affects are profound and far-reaching:

1. Loss of farmland and hence, increased centralization, homogenization, and industrialization of our food supply.

2. Adverse environmental impacts associated with loss of habitat, more hard surfaces, more chemicals being applied to lawns, etc - this is a VERY long list.

3. Increased carbon footprint to heat, cool, and maintain large homes with large lots.

4. High expense to municipalities to provide services to these sprawling communities.

5. Dependence on fossil fuels and automobiles as walking no longer becomes an option.

And so on, and so point is sprawl affects us all in profound and sometimes unexpected ways. It touches on our lives, usually in a negative way, both as individuals and as a society.

I would encourage anyone looking to buy a home, to consider the advantages of smart growth and urban living as an alternative to sprawl.

Here is Will's letter:

Balance and perspective . . .

In his May 23rd commentary, Thomas Lynch attempts to cast illusions, build straw men and further polarize growth and development issues. The very things he suggests we rise above. Lynch unfairly characterized the recently adopted comprehensive plan, and Frederick County government in general, as being unfriendly towards the business community. As a business owner who moved to Frederick County specifically to start a business, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

The hundreds of properties that Lynch refers to as being “downgraded” constitute less than 1% of the properties covered under the comprehensive plan. In addition, within that 1%, a large number of the properties were re-evaluated as a result of new, updated flood zone maps issued by FEMA. Most reasonable would agree that properties in a flood zone are not good candidates for development. Furthermore, the county commissioners specifically acknowledged that some of the rezoned properties could still be developed if annexed by the adjacent municipalities as part of their growth plans. This ensures that new development can be serviced by adjacent municipal infrastructure. In the end, there were only a handful of property owners out of the ~230,000 residents in Frederick County that were adversely affected. Little consolation for those individuals for sure, but not a bad track record for elected officials trying to balance the desire of individuals with the best interests of the community at large.

The business community in Frederick County is diverse and made up of more than just developers. For example, Frederick County has more farms than any other county in Maryland. The number of farms in Frederick County is also up 13% from 2002, unlike many other counties. Those counties that focused on development as the main engine of growth have suffered the most as a result of the bust in the construction industry. The industry was premised on people continually upgrading to the next most fashionable neighborhood or floor plan. Studies have shown that land zoned agriculture puts money in the bank for local governments. They pay more in taxes than they consume in services. The opposite is true for new development. They cost existing taxpayers more than they bring in.

The County Commissioners spent two years and countless public meetings updating the comprehensive plan. The process was open and fair. All voices were heard. The final comprehensive plan does exactly what it is supposed to do. It accommodates the population growth that is projected to occur in Frederick County over the next 20 years. It aligns growth with existing infrastructure, minimizing the cost to existing residents and taxpayers. If developers are looking for something to do, look no further than the Golden Mile or any other half dozen communities in Frederick County that are in desperate need of redevelopment.

William Morrow

Whitmore Farm

Emmitsburg, MD

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