County builders envy our neighbor's growth

Kai Hagen

February 24, 2005

You probably are not thinking about the 2006 election for the Frederick Board of County Commissioners, but the Frederick County Builders Association has been thinking about it for a while. They are already busy working to identify potential candidates.

"Identify," in this case, is a euphemism for recruit, advise and, most importantly, fund the "pro-growth" candidates who will tear down what association president Mark Lancaster has called the "invisible wall" around our county.

The association is also about to launch a campaign to persuade you that the county is growing far too slowly, and that much faster growth will "alleviate traffic," lower your taxes, reduce your cost of living, and improve your community and the quality of your life.

Incredibly, Lancaster complained that Frederick County's problems are due to a "no-growth policy."

No growth? If that doesn't fit what you see with your own eyes, you don't need your vision checked. You're seeing fine, and the facts bear that out.

For instance, since 1990, Frederick County has added as many new residents as the entire population of the City of Frederick, the second largest city in Maryland.

The recently adopted update to the Urbana Region Plan will triple the area's 2000 population by 2020, not including a separate area, which may be considered for another 7,600 people beyond the 20-year growth area. If the current version of the New Market Regional Plan is approved, that area alone will add more than 12,000 new homes and 32,000 new residents in the next 20 years.

As of May 2004, the Maryland Department of Planning projected Frederick County will add roughly 87,000 new residents in the first two decades of the century. Nothing has caused them to revise that number downward.

And yet, the Builders Association asserts that housing starts will fall to 600 next year, and that housing in the county is on a five-year downward trend. They refer to the situation as a crisis and blame an inadequate housing pipeline and a restrictive Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

According to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, however, there are 19,500 lots with some level of approval in the pipeline. Those lots, which include county and municipal approvals, will house 40,000 to 50,000 new neighbors.

Finally, while housing starts in 2004 were below average, in part due to the water shortage in Middletown and the City of Frederick, the five-year average is at an all-time high.

No growth?

Remember, the previous Board of County Commissioners was attacked as a no-growth board, even though the last decade saw more growth than any in our history. In the last election, builders bankrolled a group of challengers they considered growth-oriented, and targeted the two incumbents running for re-election.

The incumbents were re-elected anyway, but three candidates supported and funded by developers filled the empty seats and make up a majority of the board.

If we credit the builders with knowing something about their business, and we're too polite to accuse them of lying to us, we can only assume that "no-growth" is another euphemism, an all-purpose term that can be applied to any and all efforts to direct or plan the growth that is re-shaping our community.

We need only look across the Potomac to see what "pro-growth" means to them.

Loudoun County's previous Board of Supervisors was also attacked as no-growth, despite the fact the county had the second fastest growth rate in the country. Construction interests organized a well-funded campaign to successfully unseat the "no-growth" supervisors.

In no time, the handpicked majority reversed many of their predecessors' decisions on development. They voted to extend water and sewer services to a wide swath of rural Loudoun County. They revived a plan to build a major new highway through the county and north toward Frederick County.

They rescinded a countywide historic preservation plan, and instructed a county lobbyist in Richmond to change course and oppose legislation that would allow localities to charge impact fees to help with school construction.

They reduced public participation. They ended funding for a program that paid some landowners to preserve their property. They directed staff to create a fast track for businesses seeking county approvals.

The list goes on, but there isn't nearly enough space for it here.

Loudoun County is now the fastest growing county in the country. And the Frederick County Builders Association is green with envy.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at