Maryland planning official says state not responsible for town center density

Signs protesting the proposed Monrovia Town Center are seen recently around properties along Md. 75 and Md. 80. 

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.

Jim Gugel, the county’s planning director, said the state does have certain rules about where to channel funding. State dollars for highways, water and sewer construction, and new schools are directed toward priority funding areas, regions where communities exist or are planned.

The town center site is within an area slated for growth, but for compliance with priority funding area criteria, its zoning must allow up to 31⁄2 dwellings per acre. The site must also have planned links to public water and sewer systems within 10 years, Gugel said.

He noted that developers don’t have to build to the maximum density; as long as it has the right zoning, the town center could still meet the state’s funding criteria, even if it’s less compact than 3.5 units per acre.

But for a developer, it’s probably not financially feasible to build on 1- to 2-acre lots and still pay for necessary water and sewer hookups, Gugel said.

However, as Cotton wrote, the “state does not mandate ... certain zoning densities nor where such densities are placed.”

In an email Monday, Hopwood acknowledged making faulty statements at the planning commission meeting.

“Plain and simple I made a mistake by not having all the facts correct for which I regret,” Hopwood wrote.

However, Cotton’s message refutes assertions by multiple officials, said Amy Reyes, an opponent of the current town center plan.

She pointed to a March letter to the editor by Commissioners President Blaine Young, who wrote that developments on 1- to 2-acre lots are “no longer possible in Frederick County or anywhere else in the state of Maryland for that matter.” The letter published in The Frederick News-Post continues by stating that state laws limit counties to denser development.

Cotton’s email counters these claims by explaining that county officials control local growth, not the state, Reyes said. The confusion about state law raises bigger questions about whether county leaders are equipped to make decisions about Monrovia, she added.

“Do they not know what they’re doing up there?” asked Reyes, vice president of the group Residents Against Landsdale Expansion. “This is a very big impact that they’re putting in one small community, and for them to not know the laws, it really concerns me.”

Reyes also said any talk about priority funding is speculative and shouldn’t guide decision-making. The project site at the intersection of Md. 75 and Md. 80 is not yet in a priority funding area, and Reyes said there are no guarantees that the county will pocket state funding for nearby infrastructure.

Young, who sits on the planning commission, said he understands the desire for more widely spaced houses. However, larger-lot communities in areas such as Monrovia typically rely on well and septic systems, and new state laws have curtailed the spread of development on septic, he said.

Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.

(45) comments

Anonymous

Blaine Young is a hypocrite. The garbage he spews on his website is completely opposite from his "work" on this development unless he only counts himself and the developer as "the people." As quoted from his own website -

Blaine believes strongly in challenging citizens to reevaluate the role of government in our lives and is committed to redefining the role government.

“From the local all the way to the federal level, politicians and voters alike need to remember that our founding fathers build this country on the simple principle that our government should always be a government by the people and for the people,” Blaine says.

Blaine is a strong believer that “we the people” can always make better choices for ourselves than government ever can. “It’s wrong when government starts telling people what to do and how to do it,” says Blaine, adding, “The idea that government knows best and that government can and should take care of everything is a dangerous ideology that has really taken hold in the last 50 years.”

According to Blaine, the pioneering spirit that built this country would have never happened if our forefathers had to deal with the level of government intrusion that we face today. -

I think the commissioners action on this matter is clearly a governmental intrusion. The real "people" of Monrovia don't want this proposal as is for very valid reasons.

lois_lacey

As much as we all would love to see the area's farmers grow food for all of us, what I have noticed the last few years is all the land in question, and this includes that portion where 75 meets/ends at 355, have basically just let it sit. Maybe some corn now and then, but it is corn for animal consumption, not human (I was told this years ago by a local farmer). Which is fine, since there are a few cows remaining around where I live. And I understand that the owners of this land want to sell, and make a nice chunk of change too since not too many of their offspring want to continue in what we all know is a difficult profession to be in. But as long as some people only think about their own well-being, and those who are helping their well-being become more, well, WELL, then the rest of us have to fight them as hard as we can. What bothers me is that some people refuse to compromise even one little bit.

elymus43

People should be thinking about where their FOOD is going to be coming from in the future. When a piece of good farm land is used to build a house on, that piece of land is gone forever. If these people want big lots to build on, maybe they could go to the King Ranch in Texas????? If they would put more houses on an acre of land, it would stop this development craze down??? People only think about the here and now, and not the future???

pixie-dust

Interestingly, Blaine referred to the Monrovia area as being in Frederick County's breadbasket and therefore, he said, it was logical place for lots of future development. As if he thinks that houses are what farms grow.

pixie-dust

Blaine's actions seem consistent with the idea that he has nothing to lose. Perhaps he doesn't. Maybe he has decided he isn't running for anything next year. Alternatively, maybe he believes he is unbeatable. I think he is too smart to believe the latter.

Quisling

Blaine gets an F in his attempt to be a corrupt politician. Huey Long would have handled this ALOT better than good ol' Blaine. [wink]

crctms

In case Blaine and the planning commission need to learn about smart growth at the MS state Planning commission Here is the link: http://www.mdp.state.md.us/OurWork/smartGrowth.shtml
Here are there 4 goals:
Support existing communities by targeting resources to support development in areas ***where infrastructure exists***

Save our most valuable natural resources before they are forever lost;

Save taxpayers from the high cost of building infrastructure to serve development that has spread far from our traditional population centers;

Provide Marylanders with a high quality of life, whether they choose to live in a rural community, suburb, small town, or city.

lois_lacey

Boy, it is a good thing that there are enough people around who keep up with what is going on, and making sure that all of the CORRECT information makes it to the general public. Not all of us have the time or faculties to do so. Anyway, if one just does some basic math one can see that if less-density housing was built in this entire area now being talked about (Monrovia) one would see that building a single home per 1-3 acres, though would make some impact, would not be so adverse. Since some of the land is in a flood plain then no homes could be built there (OK, should not be built there as I would never try to second-guess anyone), and then we would not have over 400 acres of mostly asphalt, which results in massive water run-off and pollution. Does anyone (and I am thinking here about our elected officials) ever think long-term or what impact any growth has on the environment? The county already has high-density housing, and not 5 miles away. Why do we need more, and especially a duplicate of The Villages of Urbana? The residents of VOU already grouse about the over-crowded schools and roads and how they do not want more people coming into their neighborhood. And neither do the residents of Monrovia and the immediate surrounding area. Let's keep that rural feel we now have. It can be done.

Comment deleted.
Upton Golfer

After reading it a couple times, it sort of makes sense.

matts853

I would love to see the land used for something identical to the South Germantown Recreational Park / Soccer Plex. Frederick County has NOTHING like this crown jewel in Montgomery County.

For those not familiar with the park, it has dozens of pristine soccer fields, a large state of the art indoor swimming pool, indoor tennis courts, miles of hiking/biking trails, an indoor athletic facility with basketball courts that can also be covered with artificial turf for soccer/field hockey and kids play, a driving range, and numerous large playgrounds. It is an awesome place - one of the few good things Montgomery County ever did.

The indoor pool has two 25 meter recreation pools, an Olympic diving deck, a kids pool, 2 hot tubs, a sauna, and a weight room. If you want to swim indoors in South Frederick you need to go to either the YMCA with 4 lanes, or the subpar Hood College pool that is basically an outdoor pool with a bubble over it.

Build it and they will come.

richardlyons

Sounds like what some want for the Hargett Farm in the city.

watson4sherlock

Montgomery County has 1 million people. Frederick County has 1/4 million people. Montgomery County can afford a lot of things Frederick County can't afford to have.

mobilityedge

It's not the number of people, it's their average income and their home values that matter. We're paupers living in shacks compared to MoCo.

It's funny how no local politicians ever talk about the lack of local, high-paying jobs...

matts853

Yet another project of mass corruption. Blaine's interest has already been exposed - he has twice accepted large campaign donations from multiple LLCs that represent the developers in return for favorable outcomes on zoning/permits. All this has been documented in the FNP. Who knows what else he is getting behind closed doors.

I wonder if the attorney for the developer committed perjury in his testimony, since he said low density was illegal in Maryland when it is not.

And did anyone catch his "wink-wink" smarmy look as he panned over to his left where Blaine was sitting when the 2004 comprehensive plan map was presented - he went out of his way to comment that he found it interesting that the 2004 plan was signed off by commissioner John L. Thompson while he was smiling and rocking back in his chair as he glanced toward Blaine. What is that about? Its at 1:01:40 in the video archive.

http://frederick.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=4050


rnrbug

I dont think this is the only DRRA they are or have broken. Seems they have fudged alot of the stipulations in the regulations in favor of the builders. Especially money for the infrastructure. And the land they have set aside for future schools is a flood plane so that land will never be approved.

watson4sherlock

The fact it is too expensive to turn farmland into communities of minimum density is a good thing.

It means they need to focus on addressing the blight that exists in communities that already have water, sewer, schools, and emergency services.

Why anyone would want to buy a home where your neighbors' houses are your backyard like in Urbana is beyond me. There's nothing attractive about a GREAT BIG HOUSE on a little tiny lot.

Can the developers show any results from a presale effort for their desired configuration? The county should not invest the money to install water and sewers in a development that is doomed to be unfinished for decades if ever.

watson4sherlock

Who can find out how many homes are in foreclosure or for sale in Urbana?

This will helps us evaluate the market potentional in Monrovia.

Did the planning commission consider the supply and demand in neighboring communities that already exist?

Comment deleted.
NASCARLOVER

w...t....f

mobilityedge

Those developers sure got ripped off. One email and POOF! All those expensive lies are exposed for all to see. I almost feel sorry for them.

armillary

The truth will not change Blaine's vote.

Comment deleted.
fredneckforever

????????????????? [ohmy]

aruba95

Four miles east of Frederick:
http://www.manorathollyhills.com/

NASCARLOVER

FORE!!

Upton Golfer

GOLF, the sport of the common man.

frederickinsider

Lie to your wife mislead your lover

aruba95

And oh, there's a development off 144 going in with lots of 1 acre to 33 acres. It's under construction now.

aruba95

What is Blaine's personal interest in this development? Why is he so adamantly a proponent? He has completely abandoned the objectivity that an elected official is obligated to have.

chuckasaurus

He stands to profit in some way...follow the money.

watson4sherlock

I'm beginning to think it is more for revenge. Become a Republican and bankrupting the county for what happed in 2001.

Money is nice but revenge is to die for; even the Navy Yard shooter thought so.

armillary

Oh, you mean the black book scandal? You have a point.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/19/national/19BROT.html

stevemckay

Let's be very clear on something. This argument isn't about density - it's about impact. Higher density may be more profitable for the developer, but it also brings much higher impact when the infrastructure isn't there to support it. That's the case in Monrovia. The State's smart growth policies that have been so twisted by the County in support of this development, is predicated on putting higher density housing in areas with adequate infrastructure - not somewhere that needs $262M in road improvements.

armillary

A planning commissioner tries
to repeat Blaine's development lies
the ones he's been telling
and endlessly selling
he's wrong but that's not a surprise.

Tigerzord

Wait - you mean our county officials have been lying to us? They wouldn't do that now would they? Oh wait, you mean they've been misleading us, yea, that sounds better. Or one could say that they don't know what the heck their talking about - either choice doesn't sound so good does it!? Can't wait til 2012!

Tigerzord

or 2014 for that matter[whistling]

recordhigh

While the statements may have been misleading, I think the point is that building homes on 1 and 2 acre lots is no longer feasible for developers on a large scale because of the cost of the infrastructure, environmental concerns, government regulations, and the overall profitability of the project. More specifically, there aren't enough homes to cover the cost of installing city water and sewers, but there are too many to be drawing on wells. Also, the county wants state help with larger infrastructure projects, like transportation and schools, and they will only get it with denser developments. And then the developer wants to maximize there profits and they can only do that with more houses on smaller lots.

The days of putting a few dozen houses on 100 acres is a thing of the past in southern Frederick County.

stevemckay

The "point" is that Blaine Young has been repeatedly stating that the State has made it "illegal" to build less densely and every time he did so, he either (a) didn't know what he was talking about or (b) was lying and misleading the public. That's the only point that matters here. Talking about developer profit margins or the ability/inability of the County to seek taxpayer dollars to pay for the infrastructure problems that the development is creating and not paying for - well, that's a secondary point.

stevemckay

BTW - go look on MD 75 down near 355 ... there's a brand new public hearing announcement for the 41 homes that are proposed for 125 acres. I guess those days aren't quite over yet, now are they?

If you don't like that development, you could go over to Damascus at the nice big-lot development Roy Stanley is finishing in his backyard. Or you could go over to Poolesville - they are building a couple new developments over there that are much less dense.

frederickcountymaryland

Recordhigh: "More specifically, there aren't enough homes to cover the cost of installing city water and sewers, but there are too many to be drawing on wells." Is that a good reason for the rest of the County to suffer inadequate infrastructure, because it's more feasible for the developer? BS!

frederickinsider

I Can't Wait Until Wednesday!

Tigerzord

[thumbup]

KellyAlzan

Being I am all over the state of MD on a routine basis, I never bought into that claim that the state requires density. Never.

I can tell you homes being built in Allegheny county that are NOT high density. And I know of homes being built in Southern MD that are NOT high density.

As for Mr. Hopwood - I've been acquainted with him for years. I wonder if he is still billing ghost hours and ghost materials out to his shopping center clients??? I'm sure his over billage was "a mistake" too?

THANK YOY MR. COTTON FOR SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT! Now, Ba'lane can get his development and the community can get the development at one house per 1.5 acres.

Boss Hogg

The developer's attorney, Rand D. Weinberg of Miles & Stockbridge, also bluntly stated at the hearing it was "illegal" to build houses on 1-2 acre lots. This guy is supposed to be an expert on planning & zoning. He either lied (under oath I might add) or is completely incompetent. Probably both.

The hearing was a show trial with the Planning Commission and Mr. Weinberg twisting facts in favor of Roy Stanley. And of course the Boss, Blaine, kept asking leading questions in order to portray MTC as the next Shangri La of Frederick.

Hopwood, Weinberger, and the Boss should all tuck tail and correct the record at the continuation hearing this Wednesday. I doubt they will. Remember, it's not a lie if you believe it.....

Tigerzord

I think more than just tucking in their tail - shouldn't they be accountabole for lying, misleading, and/or not knowing their job?

watson4sherlock

Will the majority of county voters even know or remember these facts come election time?

Tigerzord

These guys have screwed up so many times and in so many places in the county - no one will forget. And if by chance they do, we'll help them remember[tongue]

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