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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.