The Frederick County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at Winchester Hall this evening regarding the proposed Monrovia Town Center development at the intersection of Md. 75 and Md. 80 in the southeast portion of the county.
The hearing before the planning commission is the penultimate step in the approval process for a 25-year Development Rights and Responsibilities Agreement that will allow for the construction of 1,510 new dwelling units and a small commercial center just west of Md. 75. Coupled with the already approved 1,100-unit Lansdale project adjacent and just west of the proposed Monrovia Town Center, this quiet area of rural subdivisions and large lots is projected to grow from a population of around 700 within a 1-mile radius to over 7,700.
If approved, the character of the area will certainly be transformed. Some residents undoubtedly would prefer to leave things the way they are and it’s hard to blame them for feeling that they have no say in something that could profoundly change their everyday lives.
Others may see a bigger issue in making sure that any new development be located in areas that can support the new residents with adequate infrastructure and that roads and schools that need to be built not come at the expense of current residents. Either way, opponents are often described as selfish NIMBYs who would deny the property rights of others when it suits them. But that is hardly a fair characterization of their opposition.
Proponents point out that this development includes a donation of a site to the Board of Education for a new high school and will generate school construction fees (because it failed school adequacy tests at all three levels) of $14 million in addition to the $20 million in school impact fees that would be required even if there were sufficient capacity for the 840 additional students it is projected to add to FCPS enrollment. That’s a lot of money until you realize that it costs $80 million to build a new high school alone and that it’s likely to be a decade or more before we could build one given the pressing needs for modernization and additional capacity in other parts of the system.
In addition to school capacity issues many residents are rightly concerned that the roads in the region are unable to support the more than 2,400 peak-hour trips per day the development is projected to generate. Since the state has declined to include the Md. 75 corridor as a Priority Funding Area, the full cost of improvements to this dangerous roadway will be borne by county taxpayers to the extent developer contributions are not sufficient to pay for all that is needed — which is all but certain.
I think it’s fair to say that the current Board of County Commissioners has done everything it can to accelerate new development in the county. But they are actually setting the stage for another swing of the pendulum after the next election by failing to listen to the legitimate concerns of current residents and not balancing the costs and benefits that new growth brings.
It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.
Fred Ugast writes from Urbana and can be reached via email at email@example.com.