Taking It on The Chin
Last Thursday night the members of the Frederick County Planning Commission, for the first time in its history, intentionally and disgracefully refused to do their duty to the citizens of Frederick County.
They decided they would not permit the public to speak on the proposed new Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map, despite the fact that they had scheduled and advertised four separate public hearings. The property owners, residents and citizens of Frederick County had planned to attend meetings and speak on whatever issues they deemed appropriate. But our Planning Commission, by a 4-2 vote, turned the citizens away and told them they could not be bothered to hear from them further.
Although they met their legal obligation by holding the first of the four scheduled hearings the night before, they showed arrogant disrespect to those who planned to speak at one of the remaining scheduled hearings.
For a little historical context, let’s look at how this came to be. On April 8, 2010, the Frederick Board of County Commissioners adopted a new Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map. The plan was approved by a 4-1 vote. I was the one vote against.
I was appointed to the Board of County Commissioners somewhat late in the process of updating this Comprehensive Plan. But anyone who heard my public statements during the consideration knew that I had been interested in the plan and had been watching it closely. And since the Jan Gardner Board (2006-2010) first talked about changing the Comprehensive Plan, I had a significant difference of opinion with the other four members of that board in the way they approached their so-called “update” of the plan.
From the beginning of the process it was advertised as an “update.” In my mind, the end result was not an “update” at all. It seems more like a completely new plan, designed to satisfy a certain political constituency. And, there was no reason to scrap the existing plan, and start from scratch; certainly there was no reason to down zone hundreds of properties and destroy millions of dollars in property values.
Throughout the history of planning and zoning in Frederick County, board after board stated that when a Comprehensive Plan was updated they would not be interested in down zoning properties. The 2010 plan takes a dramatic turn from that philosophy and – in my mind – a severe turn for the worse. In fact, the end result of the 2010 new Comprehensive Plan is that over 650 parcels of land in Frederick County, amounting to thousands of acres, have been either down zoned or have had their comprehensive plan designation removed.
I saw then, and I see now, no compelling reason for the down zonings and down-classification of thousands of acres of property in the county.
When properties are zoned a certain way, or classified on the Comprehensive Plan for future development, people make life decisions, relying on those classifications. When those classifications are taken away, real people lose real money and the county tax base is affected.
In the absence of a very compelling public need, our elected government should not be wiping out the net worth of hardworking families who have been paying taxes on their properties in good faith for many years. That is exactly what my four colleagues on the Gardner Board did in approving their plan.
And, for a little more historical context, we need to go back to the 2006 county commissioner election campaign and remember the so-called “Dream Team.” Their primary issue throughout the entire campaign was that they pledged, if elected, to scrap the New Market Region Plan, which had been approved only months before, and down zone thousands of acres of land which had been zoned for many years.
The Dream Team won the election, and in their first month in office they started the process of revamping the New Market Region Plan and to down zone properties. They drafted the plan and force fed it to the Planning Commission, which was loaded with members sympathetic to their campaign promises. The Planning Commission rubber stamped it, sent it back to the commissioners and the new plan went into effect, all because of a campaign promise.
Now jump forward to last Thursday night. Four of the five current county commissioners ran on a platform that included a pledge that if elected they would give property owners an opportunity to petition the board to restore their zoning classifications and plan designations which had been stripped from them by the prior board in either of the two down zonings I have described.
There was no secret about it. We – as candidates – said it over and over again, and we even published it in The Frederick News Post on September 26, 2010. We never said that we would grant any of the requests, only that we would provide an open and transparent public process for these people to request some action from their elected government.
Apparently for four members of the current Planning Commission, campaign promises made in 2006 are somehow more legitimate than those made in 2010. Like the Dream Team, we intend to keep our promises.
We began a process, and staff scheduled public hearings before the Planning Commission. Lead by Commissioners Bob White and Catherine Forrence, four of the Planning Commission members threw a fit, and essentially took their ball and went home because they didn’t like the way the teams were selected. These are the same commissioners who gleefully approved the down zonings sent to them by the Gardner Board, in keeping with their campaign promise to their no-growth constituency. Talk about the height of hypocrisy!
What we saw from our Planning Commission last week is an appointed board at its worst. We, as candidates last year, made a promise to our constituents, and we will keep it, with or without these four renegade members of the Planning Commission. You have my word.