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.
And by all appearances, the Frederick County Builders Association seemed to take advantage of a sympathetic four-man majority on the county board to leverage a quick decision on the new regulation. It was no surprise that a majority of commissioners rushed to adopt this to curry favor with a supportive voting bloc, even over the objections of the school board and county Planning Commission.
The mitigation fee does not consider holistically other pressures on the school system, nor capture the competing but equally important perspectives of other groups. The fee deals with the symptoms, but not the disease. It is a quick, dirty Band-Aid for more systemic problems -- infrequent and unpredictable redistricting schedules, unreliable funding for school construction and renovation, and a too-restrictive Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, to name a few.
We will never have a comprehensive approach to growth until we can dampen the name-calling hysteria of the past decade. There is, simply put, too much politics and not enough common sense, or compromise.
We need a longer-lasting solution with support from numerous interests in the county to create sensible regulations that can withstand political tides. This builder-created option isn't it. But it should spark some discussion.