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County going in wrong direction on development

August 15, 2009|By JOE LANE

The chickens are coming home to roost.

Years of publicly subsidized pro-growth planning (some would say no planning) have brought us to this point. Our schools are overcrowded. Taxes continue to rise. Traffic is becoming unbearable and even deadly. These problems continue to worsen.

Rather than control development and require developers to pay the full cost of schools, roads, fire, etc., the Washington County Commissioners keep moving full speed ahead in the wrong direction. Some commissioners even want to further subsidize development with a "stimulus package" for developers.

Deadly traffic, overcrowded schools, higher taxes -- all these problems exist for the same reason. The commissioners nearly always put the profits of developers above the needs of the citizenry.

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This pro-developer bias is evident everywhere one chooses to look. The schools are overcrowded because developers are repeatedly "exempted" from the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).

Led by Commissioners James F. Kercheval and John F. Barr, both of whom have voted with developers every time, a majority of commissioners have repeatedly allowed developers to continue building in school districts that have no room for the students the new development brings. Even as we build new schools, we continue to fall further behind. As soon as we finish a new school, we put the wheels back on the trailers (world-class portable classrooms) and drive them to the next school overrun with out-of-control development.

Even Commissioner William J. Wivell, "Mr. No" himself, said yes to a developer who wanted to overload Smithsburg High School with a new development. There is no money in the budget for the next decade to expand the already overcapacity high school. The redevelopment of Fort Ritchie is beginning to pick up speed. Where will they all go? Who will pay?

Our schools are not the only victims of the pro-development commissioners. Taxes continue to rise because developers are not required to pay the costs their developments bring. Every new house or commercial development approved costs the rest of us tens of thousands of dollars because the existing fees are so low.

If development is a net gain, as Kercheval and company claim, then why is there no money for one light on Eastern Boulevard? Why do we not have money for Robinwood Drive? Why is there no money for the bridge to the hospital? Why can't we maintain our existing roads adequately?

The creation of the death curve on Eastern Boulevard is a perfect example of this poor planning and unwillingness to ask developers to pay. Originally a "bypass," Eastern Boulevard has seen massive development in the last decade. Add to this the megadevelopment at Stone House Square and Cortland Manor on Leitersburg Pike and you get a deadly intersection with no money to fix the problem. Why were developers not required to provide adequate roads?

A light would be the least costly way to solve the Eastern Boulevard problem. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, these commissioners have a different "solution," a pro-developer solution. They want to build another "bypass." If you look at a map of the proposed "bypass," it is possible to see why a bypass is so desirable.

A recent Herald-Mail story explained how a local transnational quarry was willing to donate land for a park and a substantial portion of the "bypass" route. This land is north of Old Forge Road. The quarry currently lies south of Old Forge Road. The quarry owns the land on both sides, but cannot expand should it wish to do so because Old Forge Road is in the way. The land they are willing to donate for a park is the same land that would be required as a buffer if the quarry expanded.

To see how huge an expansion could be, one should take a trip to the Pegasus Radio Controlled Airplane Club and look north to the far tree line beyond the cornfield. This is where the realigned Old Forge Road will need to be. This realignment will cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and will allow more than 100 acres of current farmland to be developed as quarry as well as hundreds more acres north of the realigned Old Forge Road for sprawling development. All this to avoid building a single traffic light.

There is a limit to the amount of development these commissioners can permit, though they do not seem to understand this. There is a finite amount of sewage the state will allow this county to dump into the Potomac River. There is not enough capacity to fully build the existing urban growth area, much less accommodate continued sprawl. When these commissioners allow sprawl development to use up this sewer capacity, they are not only destroying some of the finest agricultural land on the planet, they are creating a future where some property owners will not be allowed to build on their land. It could be a parent who wants to build a house for their child or a desirable commercial development with high paying jobs.

The sewer capacity issue calls for long-term planning. While long-term planning seems to be anathema to these commissioners, they do have a short-term plan. It has three components:

1. Hurry up and sprawl.

2. Let the taxpayers cover the cost.

3. Let the future be damned.

 

Joe Lane is a Smithsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail

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