David beat Goliath. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally the little guy wins.

A grassroots citizens group has succeeded in killing a proposed 1,200-unit housing and retail development near Urbana after a struggle that lasted most of the past decade.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, has ruled that the developers, Payne Investments and 75-80 Properties, could not proceed.

The history of the development is a microcosm of the arguments over growth in Frederick County. The proposal was approved in the waning days of the old Board of Commissioners, before the county charter was adopted and the executive/council form of government was created.

The last board of commissioners was rabidly pro-growth, and it approved a plethora of huge projects, including the Lake Linganore/Oakdale High School housing developments near New Market and the Jefferson Tech Park southwest of the city of Frederick.

The Monrovia rezoning was tripped up in large part because of a violation of the county’s Ethics Code.

Residents Advocating for Land Use and the Environment (RALE) was the citizen-led organization that championed the fight against the MTC. The Frederick Area Committee for Transportation (FACT) was backing the developers and urging the county to approve the town center.

Former county commissioner Paul Smith violated the county’s ethics code that prohibits so-called ex parte communication, secretly meeting with the FACT group and helping to write a letter to the Board of Commissioners on which he was serving in favor of the project.

The Frederick County Circuit Court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals both held that Smith’s actions violated the law and permitted the new County Council to reconsider the zoning, and the council then killed project. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower courts.

The high court also noted that once the Circuit Court determined that the ethics statute had been violated, and sent the case back to the council, the court was correct to vacate the developer’s approvals given by the Board of Commissioners. That decision came after the developer refused to participate in the hearing to reconsider the project.

The court also rejected the developers’ argument that ambiguity in the county’s ethics code should have allowed them to keep the approvals, because of the expenses they had already put into the property.

Matt Seubert, the president of RALE, said the community’s support in the long legal battle was key.

“The community came together and basically funded the legal fees,” he told our reporter. “These things aren’t cheap, and we had a talented lawyer, and it takes a lot of money to challenge these things.”

Money is usually the reason community groups lose these battles over growth. Community groups rarely can sustain the fight and keep paying the lawyers because the developers have the deeper pockets.

The land for the town center is at the intersection of Green Valley Road (Route 75) and Fingerboard Road (Route 85). It was the site of the old 75/80 drag racing strip, now abandoned and overgrown with trees and shrubs.

It is highly unlikely the land will never be developed, but the owners will have to start over from the beginning, with a new development plan going before the county Planning Commission and County Council.

But it is beyond unlikely that the current council would even consider a project that would include 1,200 homes and retail businesses. That kind of crowding just will not be allowed to happen, and that is the correct attitude.

The county is still struggling to cope with the cost of schools, transportation and other infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate the massive developments approved in the bad old days under the old board of commissioners.

Congratulations to the people of Monrovia and the RALE group for taking on the giant — and winning.

(34) comments

des21

Congrats and thanks to Steve McKay and Matt Seubert (particularly Steve who got this rolling) and all of those who contributed to stopping this farce. Excellent work.

When its safe to go outside gain we'll celebrate.[beam]

hayduke2

This was a great community effort that was united aagainst a shame process and a BOCC who wanted to ram this thru - they made changes to the Landsdale agreement in a stealthy way without community input and thought they would do the same with this one. Congrats to all the citizens who spent countless hours in testimony, to RALE and their leadership and to an attorney who was tenacious.

Frayou

“It is highly unlikely the land will never be developed, but the owners will have to start over from the beginning, with a new development plan going before the county Planning Commission and County Council.”

So, what did the County accomplish? This area will be developed eventually and people will continue to take issues for same reasons. Overdevelopment and insufficient funds for infrastructure, schools and more.

matts853

Frayou, those issues show no sign of abating anytime in the near future. The State has no plans to widen/expand 75. Unless or until that ever happens there will never be a massive PUD on that land. 75 was and always will be the Achilles heel for a big development there.

While this thing was going on, Blaine Young once said to me that the developer was “in over his head.” He must not have realized that meant he was too. If I was them, I’d blame Young for giving them a false sense security that he could cram this project through. They should also blame Smith for violating an ethics rule that as an attorney, he should have been aware of. Blaine gambled that the State would prioritize 75 for improvement. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen they got desperate. They knew the administrative record as it stood was deficient on proving traffic adequacy. That glaring weakness ultimately forced them at the very last minute to produce a fake piece of evidence from FACT to bolster it. They went all that way only to sabotage it at the very end. The community forced them into making a fatal mistake. That’s the essence of the case.

We’ll never know if the Courts would have upheld the approval based on solely on the record - before it was tainted with Blaine’s introduction of the fraudulent FACT letter. But in my opinion, Blaine’s hubris and poor judgment doomed this project from the start.

Matt Seubert

stevemckay

[thumbup][thumbup]

Bookie

Matts, let's not forget Mr. Stanley's unwillingness to work with the community. He openly admitted he knew no one in the community wanted this large development. He was unwilling to alter his development plan since his plan would produce the most personal profit. And we should not forget when and how the FACT letter was introduced. The FACT letter was the only piece of evidence read into the record. And it was read by one of the decision maker’s, Blaine Young. And, it was read after cross examination had ended and just prior to developer's rebuttal. RALE was denied the right to cross-examine the FACT letter. Finally, as an officer of the court, the MTC counsel not only ignored the timing and manner the FACT letter was introduced, they included the FACT letter in their own rebuttal as "extremely telling" evidence. Congratulations to the community for their endurance and reward of justice from the highest court in Maryland. The MTC “Done Deal”, is now truly a DONE DEAL!

stevemckay

[thumbup][thumbup]

stevemckay

Frayou - sometimes delaying development is accomplishment enough. Maybe they come back with a new proposal, maybe they don't. If they do, it won't be soon. In the meantime, we don't have the first 400-500 houses out of the 1250 proposed. We don't have even MORE overcrowding at Green Valley Elementary and Urbana High. We don't have a Rt 75 with way more traffic than it can handle (post-COVID), with really no hope for State funding to rebuild and expand it. We don't have added pressure on the County budget to build another new school - at all of our expense, btw.

There is simply too much new building right now, in too small of an area of the County. Any delay in some of it can be very advantageous to the County and it's ability to prepare the infrastructure. That's something that Blaine's BOCC flat out ignored when they approved all of this.

As for "what did the County accomplish?", keep in mind that this is first and foremost about what the community accomplished. The community led the fight because they understood how the development would impact their lives. So the community accomplished a lot! As for what happens in the future, that's anybody's guess but for now, Monrovia stays a little smaller and that's fine by me.

Frayou

Was not my intention to undermine the action and success of the local community efforts/attempt to control unwanted and/or unmanageable growth and I did not approve of the former Young pro-growth. Especially after watching Gardner advocating for education funding In meetings with the Hoke administration. Then later watching Commissioner Gardner & associates passing Adequate Public Growth Policies only to watch them be destroyed by Young & Parties setting unregulated precedent to their special interest. I’m reminded of this every time I go under that special bridge to nowhere, known as Jefferson Technology Park. The point I was attempting having been born, lived and raised my family in this County was the fact that I have watched the effects of uncontrollable growth for decades. County leaders use to look in awe both Rt 70 east and 270 south for the potential financial economic & tax benefits to come to Frederick. It has come, but so has all the problems. The unfortunate issue is people come from those areas to get away from the very same problems whose growth policies they again encourage in Frederick County. Unfortunate.

stevemckay

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MD1756

What what pressure causes overdevelopment and the need for more schools? Population growth. The developers wouldn't develop new properties if the demand weren't there. Governments need to stop promoting population growth as a fix for their finances.

sevenstones1000

There’s hope for getting rid of the sheriff yet.

NewMarketParent

@sevenstones1000

I hope so, but he runs on a pretty solid xenophobic platform and for the citizens of Frederick County that seems to be a feature rather than a bug.

MD1756

[offtopic]

NewMarketParent

@MD1756

Fair point and correct.

MD1756

[offtopic]

FrederickFan

Congratulations to all the citizens who raised their voice, were persistent, and won!

lewisantq

The apparent corruption of that previous County Council was obvious to the residents of Frederick County. Paul smith has left politics while Blaine Young, Kirby Delauter and Billy Schreve all lost elections, rejected by county voters and hopefully they are in our rear view mirror. Good riddance! Bob Lewis

NewMarketParent

@lewisantq

Thanks for the history lesson. Holy crap did this county have some really poor leadership. That explains a few things.

Dwasserba

Even people it didn't affect, people who asked, "Where's Monrovia?" sided against this.

public-redux

Kirby, Billy, and Tony not only lost elections, they lost primaries. One of the few times I’ve been proud of local Republicans in recent years.

NewMarketParent

@public-redux

Losing primaries can be a mixed bag. It depends on if the replacement is more flexible/moral or less.

matts853

Tony lost to current Council Member Steve McKay, who was RALE’s first President. Steve did more to help D2 as a private citizen than Tony ever did on the council. Steve is honorable, genuine and very smart. His ethics and integrity are beyond rapprochement. He is a giant improvement over his predecessor on the council.

Dwasserba

I guess you had to be there, as in....who isn't...

NewMarketParent

@matts853

Thank you for this comment. As someone relatively new to the area, I appreciate the history lesson. I keep hearing that the current council is way better than the previous one. I didn't realize that the bar was set so low.

stevemckay

Thanks Matt!

public-redux

NMP, You make a good point that is true in general. But as Matt pointed out, in these elections, there was a lot more space on the room for improvement side than there was on the other side. A lot.

matts853

Not only did Tony lose his primary, he foolishly ran in the general as a write-in candidate and got shellacked. A 2x loser in the same race. He always did have delusions of grandeur. I’m sure we’ll never hear from him again.

Trellis

Stop it. For heck's sake, just stop. From what I have followed so far, you appear to have been leading with excellence and maturity. Now you have allowed yourself to devolve into the same immature name calling and childish, ugly gloating that litter the comment section daily. You are doing yourself a great disservice.

public-redux

And Blaine lost — handily — in a big Republican year. I wonder if he would have gotten even 40% if it wasn’t a wave election from Republicans.

mgoose806

Blaine Young lost due to his own undoing. It had very little to do with Monrovia. Steve McKay won solely because of the Monrovia. He was a one issue candidate and that is all it takes.

public-redux

I completely agree.

matts853

Goose, Steve ran a comprehensive campaign that included numerous town hall meetings with substantive discussions of schools, roads, ethics, public safety, and yes, development - on which he knows more about than anyone else on the council. He’s thoroughly versed on the matter having educated himself on it through his engagement on MTC. But moreover, his legislative record part way through his first term on the council is broad, conservative and effective. Look it up. He put forward many amendments to Livable Frederick - many of which were adopted. He also consistently offers plenty of good amendments on other council members’ legislation and the County budgets. He’s always prepared and forward thinking. I don’t always agree with Steve, especially on environmental matters, but I have the utmost respect for his thoroughly researched and well thought out positions. He makes decisions solely with the best interests of his constituents and the County at large in mind. There’s no hidden motive in anything he does which is a refreshing change from his predecessor. So he’s the furthest from a one issue member on the council.

In contrast, Tony hardly campaigned at all for his re-election primary. He was lazy and banked on winning as an incumbent - he admitted as much. It was only after he lost to Steve that he put in a last ditch effort to win as a write-in candidate, which failed miserably.

On the council, Tony’s only legislative accomplishment was off-track horse betting - a very narrow issue with limited benefit to his constituents or the County overall. Tony demonstrated no imagination on the council and lacked critical thinking. He was actually the one that was solely focused on protecting developers’ interests no matter what the negative impact was to his constituents (like me) or the County at large. He was against raising impact fees, against strengthening FRO, and was a full supporter of MTC when the circuit court remanded it back to the council. And as a prospective candidate for the new council he was conspicuously absent from all 13 public hearings on this most controversial matter in his district. He attended not a single one of those hearings when meanwhile, Steve was busy almost full-time leading RALE organizing and galvanizing a large community to hold the BOCC and the developer accountable for their unscrupulous conduct and the project’s blatant public infrastructure deficiencies. He was right to do so and yes, it was a big reason for him unseating Tony, but certainly not the only one.

Anecdotally, I was an active member of the Smarter Growth Alliance for Frederick County and participated in a group meeting with then council member Chmelick. He said something to the effect of ‘far be it from me to stand in the way of a developer making a buck.’ So, with all due respect goose, Tony was in fact the one-trick pony all along.

I’m sorry if it stings, goose, but don’t blame me for giving you the inconvenient truth.

matts853

If I’m not mistaken, Paul Smith ran for either delegate or senator in the General Assembly. I believe he lost in the primary.

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