Changes would render growth controls moot

Kai Hagen

January 13, 2005


That was my first thought when I read the proposed changes to the Frederick County adequate public facilities ordinance put forth by the Frederick County Builders' Association.

The changes are spelled out in a four-page document of legal terminology that details application and allocation.

But the brief memo from Chris Smariga, president of the Builders' Association's Land Use Council, that accompanies the document includes this summary: "The amendment consists of a new section which would allow for the payment of a School Mitigation Impact Fee Premium. Payment of the Premium would allow 750 units to be built each year that do not otherwise have APFO approval."

That's the gist of it. Builders could jack up the price of each new home, pass along the higher one-time fee, and sidestep all school adequacy requirements.

But let's back up a moment.

An adequate public facilities ordinance, or APFO, requires certain facilities, such as schools, roads and sewers, can meet the demands associated with growth.

Established in 1991, Frederick County's APFO was adopted with "the intent that new development take place in accordance with the Frederick County Comprehensive Plan and the Capital Improvements Program and to ensure that adequate public facilities and services are available concurrent with new development."

The proposal may be presented as an amendment to the ordinance, but the proposal would render the APFO virtually meaningless.

After all, children who would live in the 750 extra new homes built each year would not all attend private schools. And the additional drivers would not commute to work or run errands on private roads.

The additional fee on developers would not make it possible to move school construction projects ahead as fast as they will be needed. It would not cover all the costs of new schools, not to mention other operating costs and infrastructure needs that are required to support the extra population growth and address associated impacts.

The rest of us would pay for the additional houses in all sorts of ways.

The first paragraph of the draft proposal states that "after receiving public comment and having received recommendations from the Frederick County Planning Commission, the aforesaid Board of County Commissioners deems the amendments to the APFO, as such amendments are set forth in this Ordinance, to be in the best interest of the citizens of Frederick County and consistent with the general intent of the APFO."

Of course, that's getting ahead of things a bit, since public comment and hearings by the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners have not happened yet.

Putting aside the language that suggests the proposal is consistent with the intent of the APFO, since the authors probably had to say it, consider the process the folks at the Builder's Association went through to produce the proposal.

We can start with the presumption that the proposal was written to reflect the interests of the members of the Builder's Association. That's their right, certainly, but the rest of us need to keep it in mind.

The other thing to remember is that this is political, and every aspect of the proposal was surely vetted in that context. In the simplest terms, the proposal is a builder's wish list priority item, modified with the Board of County Commissioners in mind.

Commissioner Jan H. Gardner is a thoughtful and steadfast defender of quality education in Frederick County, and the authors know with certainty she will vote against the proposal.

Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson Jr. is a tireless opponent of public subsidies to private development interests, and the authors know with certainty he will vote against the proposal.

That means the Builder's Association crafted a proposal they believed could win support from the remaining commissioners: John R. Lovell Jr., Bruce L. Reeder and Michael L. Cady.

Each of those commissioners will have to consider what they think is right, and what is in the interest of county residents. They will likely also consider their own political interests.

On one side of that equation is the continued, enthusiastic support of development interests. On the other side is a more uncertain combination of public awareness and opinion, and whether or not supporting the proposal will affect how many voters make their own decision almost two years from now.

Frederick County residents can make it less of a guessing game by letting the commissioners know now what they think.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at