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Deja Poo Part Two

Deja Poo Part Two

I last wrote of the ire of citizens attending a meeting on the degradation of the Patuxent Branch Trail who have heard the same “excuse songs” once too often. Ultimately the involved parties are to meet in an effort to reach a more palatable solution. But that commitment to meet followed many of the ‘same old, same old’ platitudes- from the County Exec, the head of DPZ, the Bike Howard coordinator,  the head of CA. Rec and Parks said nothing.

The patterns of excuses in these meetings have become so predictable that I’m thinking of distributing POO Cards at governmental meetings (a 3 by 3  grid rather than the 5 by 5 of BINGO designed to keep track of hearing all the “standards.”  One would mark off the square containing any of these excuses, working to get 3 in a row, or a T or a Z for the pros:

  • We were just working within the laws that we have
  • It’s a ‘by right’ use
  • We’re not required to ___(fill in the blank)__
  • We can’t insist a developer consider ___(fill in the blank)__
  • We can’t ask CA to ___(fill in the blank)__
  • There was a full review by all the members of the Subdivision Review Committee and ___(fill in the blank)__
  • The County attempted to buy it but couldn’t because___(fill in the blank)__
  • We never thought about buying/preserving it ‘cause no one ever asked us to
  • We plan to do a comprehensive plan for this area soon
  • That historic structure was beyond saving
  • We’re running out of land
  • We’re short staffed
  • It’s not my job
  • We haven’t gotten an opinion yet from the Office of Law
  • We’ve hired a consultant and many hours have gone into assessing which development regulations may need to be changed
  • We have to wait until after the election to actually begin work on changing regulations, so even though we are destroying everything you hold dear….we’re working on it!

Of course the center box, rather than saying FREE as on a BINGO card will just boldly exclaim PROPERTY RIGHTS, which after all, trumps health and safety, adequate facilities, etc.

Gosh, with so many to choose from, there could be a board game version. Who wants to play “Save Our Community”?  Players assume different “targets” to save from over-development: historic structures, sensitive environmental areas, brick ‘n mortar schools, trails and pathways, roads and intersections, etc., etc.  As they work their way around the board they encounter even more ‘standard’ Excuses and Occurrences cards like:

  • The parcel has been upzoned again—even if not requested by the owner
  • The parcel has been upzoned yet again —and is now totally incompatible with everything around it
  • Surprise-an obscure Zoning Regulation Amendment (ZRA) actually effects multiple parcels not just the one owned by the petitioner
  • There is an overlay to the overlay of the overlay zone
  • Oooops, you only thought you had standing to appeal the decision
  • Call it ‘Alternative Compliance’ and it won’t seem like a waiver or free pass to disregard the regulation
  • Our engineers can design a solution to every storm water problem—flood plain, steep slopes, erodible soils—no problem
  • If flooding should result—and it won’t—the waters will have been cleaned before they leave the property due to best practices.
  • There’s no requirement to go before the Design Advisory Panel so they can build it however they want
  • That easement was abandoned and conveyed to __ X__ developer previously
  • It won’t cost the County anything….except for mitigation and perpetual maintenance
  • We need to make this area the County’s economic engine
  • Since old people have lower incomes, paying lower taxes we need to do everything to attract Millennials instead!
  • Saving the WEST for agriculture takes precedent…..until the East is a ghetto and we need higher taxes from more development
  • People moving in won’t have any cars or children—trust me
  • And soooo many more

What fun!

As I said last time I am delighted that new faces are getting engaged—and very vocal. Just this week, two community issues in the Southeast have gained tremendous traction on social media. These include 1.) failing intersections along Gorman Road and 2.) development of the Milk Producers Co-op land into 375-400 homes. Unfortunately, both new issues,  deserving their own blog, may be traced to DPZ’s emphasis on ZONING rather than PLANNING, and to an impotent Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Now more than ever it is critical for citizens to trace back to Comprehensive Rezoning, to approval of ZRAs, to votes on increasing allocations and to supporting the status quo on APFO to identify which elected officials are responsible for contributing to the conditions which have resulted in over development and the destruction of beloved features like our Patuxent Branch Trail.  They should not be returned to power or elevated to new positions where they can do even more harm.

In closing, some advice for those new to community activism:  Beware of trends, not just in excuses. Be aware of the strategies used by our elected officials to dilute activists’ efforts by keeping us playing “Whack A Mole” on multiple issues simultaneously.

While you’ve been attending BoE sessions and pre-submission meetings and are possibly about to start the Planning Academy, you may not foresee the beginning of the “Council Legislative Whirlwind Season.”  This is a phenomenon which starts with numerous Budget sessions in April and builds to a frenetic pace through July, often requiring additional sessions to accommodate testimony from angry citizens.  Unfortunately, all too often, the really important legislation is delayed until right before the Council’s summer recess when lots of people are on vacation.

Citizen participation can be discouraged by including multiple controversial issues on the same night so that one group of constituents will have to wait until well after 11 o’clock to begin testimony OR be asked to return on a future date.  This always assures a considerable percentage of participants will not return. Forewarned is forearmed.

Plan to dress in layers and bring caffeine to upcoming sessions—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

P.S. If you are tired of purchasing a different t-shirt to represent individual causes, you can get the great Deja Poo t-shirts from www.catalogfavorites.com to let ‘em know you are wise to their tricks.

 

 

DEJA POO:  An Introduction

DEJA POO: An Introduction

DEJA POO:  noun. The feeling of having heard this crap before

Those who have chosen a path of citizen activism are the first to recognize Deja Poo due to the frequency with which they have encountered it.

Those who only attend a very occasional government-sponsored meeting/hearing due to an issue feared to negatively affect them personally, may still think it’s just “Like Groundhogs Day” or “Deja vu all over again.”

But despite the hopes of our elected officials and County employees, little gets past the experienced activist. A case in point was the meeting held on March 29th at Hammond High School to discuss the denigration of the Patuxent Branch Trail where it begins its journey from Guilford to Savage. “Denigration” is a descriptor that would be applied by citizens and their defender, Council Member Jen Terrasa—certainly not by what some would term the ‘evil-doers.’

A quick summary of events leading up to the meeting: One morning residents of Kings Contrivance, and others, awoke to the dismantling of a granite house in the Historic Guilford Industrial District followed by removal of all the trees which formerly surrounded it. They learned far too late that plans for a 4 story Self Storage facility had been approved 2 years prior! For decades local users of the Patuxent Branch Trail, across the street from Quarry Park, have hiked, biked, and pushed baby strollers along this segment of abandoned Old Guilford Road as they approach the entrance to the trail which is beautifully adorned with the old railroad bridge. Imagine their shock to learn that the new Storage facility would be accessed along this remaining portion of traffic free, dead-ended Old Guilford Road rather than from Guilford Road which provides access to all other buildings in the office park.

I must freely admit that I enjoyed the high attendance and high spirits of the group that gathered last week for an explanation of “How the h*ll did this happen?!” and “Why weren’t we informed?! They clearly felt betrayed by HoCo government and the CA for not recognizing in advance how much this trail means to citizens—and not making the effort to work out a compromise on the entranceway to the facility at a minimum. Citizens clearly expressed their disdain for the governmental units who, even if they recognized a potential problem, didn’t put much effort into seeking solutions, instead hiding behind HC land development regulations and property rights.  While “A Good Excuse Is One You Can Use Over And Over” is a clever saying for a refrigerator magnet, it is not a good defense against the ire of citizens who have heard the same song once too often.

In my next installment I will begin detailing the patterns of excuses, the consequences of focusing on zoning rather than PLANNING, the thinly veiled deals, and putting economic development above citizen quality of life. These constitute the main components of the POO. I will continue my focus on the Guilford end of the trail and then draw parallels to the situation at the Savage end of the trail.  So much POO, so little time…. (I’ll also reveal where to get these great T-shirts.)

Check subscribe so you don’t miss a single installment– and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Separate(d)….. and definitely Not Equal

Separate(d)….. and definitely Not Equal

There have been numerous suggestions for improving school safety as a result of the Parkland, FL tragedy.  These range from installing bulletproof glass, double lock vestibules, and metal detectors at school entrances– to more regular emergency drills where students practice sheltering-in-place in classrooms, lavatories, and closets.

Unfortunately NONE of those suggestions will protect the Howard County students who receive instruction in thin-walled trailers behind school buildings.  These foundationless trailers are without the protection of brick and mortar, vestibules, bathrooms, or closets.

When will we address the need to eliminate the approximately 240 such ‘classrooms’ in use here in HoCo today? According to the 2019 proposed capital budget an additional $2.5 million is to be allocated for additional purchase and moving of “relocatables.” How come there is NO plan in place to eliminate the use of trailers as the solution to school overcrowding in the short OR long term.  The time for such a plan is NOW!

In a jurisdiction which espouses equality as a core value, where is the outcry to increase developer’s fees and excise taxes to provide adequate school facilities for ALL our students?  Oh wait.  There was an outcry during the recent Adequate Public Facilities debate. But some chose not to listen. Remember, they chose developer profits over children’s safety.

Speak up for ALL of the children—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Gunfight at the APFO Corral

Gunfight at the APFO Corral

Not a real gunfight of course, but a major ‘showdown’ whose consequences may be just as dire….. How come I’m hearing the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as I write this?

In the beginning…..(Skip this paragraph if you are current)

Almost a year into his administration the County Executive met a campaign promise and convened a task force to revise the decade old Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. Once the group completed their work inexplicably almost another year passed before the CE put the result forward as legislation almost identical to the task force’s recommendations. After time wasted before the Planning Board, the legislation was finally ready for the Council’s consideration as summer-recess-time 2017 approached.

Fast forward to November, when after hours and wee hours of testimony and an equal amount of work sessions, THE GOOD (Council Members Ball, Terrasa, and Weinstein) succeeded in amending the Bill to most significantly reduce the threshold at which schools would be considered sufficiently over-capacity to delay construction, as well as adding a capacity test for high schools. While some joy was felt by residents, those voting against the passage of the amended bill predicted dire consequences, concluding, incorrectly, that Howard County would now be shut down to development.

Monday night, January 5 at 7:00 p.m. the County Council will vote again on the APFO bill (which passed in November but whose outcome was invalidated due to a ‘calendar miscalculation’). That bill was brought forward exactly as passed in January 2018 as CB 1 and 2, sponsored by the three Council Members who voted to pass it.

However, on the night of the public hearing, THE BAD arguments arose in a clearly orchestrated attempt to mislead the Council and the public–and to shoot holes in the bill. All the elements of a chapter from a political party’s strategy playbook were displayed!

  • Define the issue by using an inappropriate, emotionally charged and entirely inaccurate term—in this case “moratorium” to describe a short-lived, slow-down.
  • Make dire predictions based on unsubstantiated, biased data—in this case, the total collapse of the HoCo economy if developers don’t have a ‘predictable’ atmosphere in which to build on every last inch of land.
  • Make a case for how cruel and heartless slower growth advocates are to those ‘less fortunate’—in this case, those in need of low income housing even if they are not current residents; despite most downtown Columbia projects already being in the pipeline and therefore unaffected; NO regulations requiring low income units be built, and allowing ‘fee in lieu’ to dodge moderate income housing requirements).
  • And when all else fails……shamelessly bring in the parents of individuals with special needs to plead your case for you –in this case, especially those on the autism spectrum, while doing NOTHING to make housing more affordable for them or anyone else.

Where were these people spewing THE BAD arguments for the last year???? Were they simply so confident that the original APFO bill would pass (because most every piece of legislation supporting increased development does) that they felt no need to bother attending and participating????

After THE UGLY Council legislative hearing and THE UGLY Council Work Session (during which only pro-development voices were given an opportunity to be heard), THE UGLY meeting of the Ho Co State delegation regarding enabling legislation to allow HoCo to raise the fees on developers was unsatisfactory to citizens. (Though Hats Off to Delegate Turner for pointing out those fees haven’t be raised in a decade and that paying 2 or 3 times almost nothing [to skirt school capacity issues] is still almost nothing. I guess it is easier to speak the truth when one will be retiring from political office.)

So how come I titled this blog The Gunfight at the APFO Corral rather than The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?

I predict a BIG Showdown in the Banneker Room on Monday night. Eight substantial amendments have been proposed by 4 individual Council Members. Some raise school capacity figures, some lower them, some delay implementation. Some exempt ‘affordable housing’ from the schools test, some insist on equating housing needs to school capacity needs, some change the adequate roads provision.  https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/PrintSummary.aspx?LegislationID=2955

Unless the Council takes a highly unlikely vote to table the Bill in order to allow future public testimony on the proposed amendments, only written input can be considered at this point.  I’m comfortable agreeing with others who have put in hours, months, years on the effort to get the best possible APFO for HoCo residents rather than big business.

I therefore suggest the following citizen action:

Go on record with only the briefest note to councilmail@howardcountymd.gov  Urge the passing of CB1 as drafted, or with the addition of amendments that strengthen the infrastructure of our county, namely amendments 1, 4, 7, and 8. Urge defeat of amendments which would increase school capacity, delay implementation of the APFO high school test, and create exemptions that defeat the basic purpose of APFO, namely amendments 2, 3, and 6. (If # 5 actually weakens the roads test, reject it as well.)

There has been other contentious legislation in the past, but none where citizens have put in more time studying, testifying, advocating, and collaborating.  They will not tolerate a further decline in their quality of life or of their children’s education. They will NOT tolerate the gutting of the bill passed in November. They will NOT soon forget those who attempt to do so. If the community’s desires are shot down, future plans of Council Members, whether seeking elected office or employment by the development community, may be shot down as well.

Our Ho Co State Delegation awaits the passage of CB1 so they can move forward on the companion legislation to address removing the buy-up provisions and increasing school surcharge fees.  Will there be purposeful Council delays to miss the State legislative session, leaving the current incredibly inadequate APFO in place? Will the CE veto the bill under consideration if he feels the economic impact is too great? Will we ever get the truth about whether State enabling legislation is really required since other Charter Counties set their own fees?

The stakes are high and so are the emotions. I expect Feb 5 to be among THE UGLIEST. Will Council Members do the right thing for their constituents? Will the State legislators? Will a referendum be necessary?

Write the Council now, wear yellow, make ‘em look you in the eye Monday night—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

Hocotian Economics 101: Exposed

Hocotian Economics 101: Exposed

How come citizens can see the errors in Hocotian economics while many decision makers can’t?

Hocotian economics (origin HoCounty) defined as purported economic justifications out of step with current realities; purely designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. An already out dated economic argument put forward, stated as gospel, to justify additional expenditures or increased development. Synonyms: total hogwash, self-serving drivel, a whopper

Disclaimer: I’m admittedly no scholar on economic theory but I founded and directed a Buyers Cooperative with annual sales of over $1million and was previously a member of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. I’ve also been known to suffer from common sense.

As we plunge into a new County budget cycle, I can’t help but reflect on the constant barrage of past, present, and future projects in which bizarre Hocotian economic justifications play a big—and expensive role.

Example 1: How come Kimco maintains the addition of 260 apartments are essential for the Hickory Ridge Village Center to be sustainable? With more competition from Downtown Columbia Kimco purports that “adding mixed units and high-end apartments will give their retailers a captive market.” CAPTIVE??? Get real! Where is the hard evidence that the new apartment residents will faithfully shop at the Giant while high-end specialty markets like Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and Sprouts, and money-saving venues like BJs and Costco abound? Hasn’t Kimco heard of online ordering for grocery delivery services, or meal prep services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron? Besides, isn’t there an expectation that Howard County families eat out several nights a week? No sir, the Planning Board shouldn’t buy the Hocotian argument that the massive, incompatible new design proposed is the Village Center’s only lifeline–any more than I buy that the 35 unit Bozzuto development proposed will assure an economic turn around for the Savage Mill. Disclaimer: I haven’t returned to the HRVC since the day Bella Luna closed. IMO, if Kimco hadn’t insisted on such an objectionably huge number of apartments, they’d probably be halfway through their renovation! 

Example 2: Seemingly limitless expansion of The Arts as an economic engine. Affluent, well-educated people can never have too much Art!  Or maybe they can…..According to the Sunday Baltimore Sun front page article, “Art no longer a huge draw: steadily thinning crowds are problem both locally and nationally.” Ooops, how much $$$$$ have we obligated for the Arts in the Crescent/Downtown Columbia and the revitalized Long Reach Village Center?  With high definition virtual museum tours, the ability to print 3D copies, and home theatres– why fight traffic for non-existent parking?  Disclaimer: While I lack artistic talent and the money to be a true patron, I proudly raised a fine arts major who chose to be gainfully employed as a graphic designer/marketing specialist.
Also in The Sunday Sun is the report on the collapse of the roof at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Work to raise it was already underway. Can Howard County really afford this $55 million renovation project with a swimming pool for performers when $$$ is so desperately needed for additional schools?  How come the MPP projected revenue figures never subtract the cost of police security and traffic management or EMS and hospital services?…or the sound volume monitors that are ignored?

Example 3:  How come a 20% pay raise for the county executive and council members is recommended in part “because of the high cost of living here?” Won’t continually raising salaries and other governmental expenses assure the high cost of living only gets higher? Disclaimer: I do think a county executive should make more than his employees. But perhaps we should look to lower the salaries of the other positions during turn-over? There is no shortage of persons seeking to be ‘our elected public servants’, nor is there a shortage of’ professionals eager to have their resume include having worked for Howard County. Indeed Council members have experienced increased workloads resulting from population growth. But isn’t that why each got an additional staff member last year to decrease that workload? What did that and an additional auditor for the Council Council add to last year’s budget? And why should we concern ourselves about what other jurisdictions are paying their elected officials? How come HoCo never looks at what other jurisdictions are charging?

Example 4: Citizens concerned with the adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) did just that! They discovered HoCo developers are charged a mere fraction toward adequate schools, roads, etc. compared to our neighbors. Allowing developers to buy their way out of waiting until classrooms are available is Hocotian Economics at its worst! Paying two or three times the ‘normal’ rate in order to proceed with development when that ‘normal’ rate was so incredibly inadequate still doesn’t meet what developers are paying in surrounding counties, and will only further exacerbate our school overcrowding issues.  A Council Public Hearing will be held this Tuesday, January 16th beginning at 6 p.m. A large turnout is needed to convince the council to maintain the improvements voted on in November– even if it means slower growth until school facilities can catch up. Citizen should also demand an increase in the ‘normal’ rate developers pay. Citizens should not let Council members be swayed by….

Example 5:  BEWARE! Developers and the Chamber of Commerce representatives will ring their hands on Tuesday night, putting forth the Hocotian economics that affordable housing will be the victim of restricted growth. In reality developers are required to include 15% moderate income housing units in most zones but generally elect to pay a fee-in-lieu (which once again is not sufficient to purchase a housing unit). The current APFO bill exempts from the schools test the additional students generated from those 15% of units. Remember that gift of 100s of additional units to HHughs Downtown…..?  Let’s look for the devil in the details.

There are many, many more examples to discuss another day.  Send me some of your favorite examples, but let’s start by taking action on these.

Think about how over-development negatively effects YOUR family’s economics—and meet me on the high road,

 Susan