A Commentary on Growth and Politics in Frederick County, Maryland

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Frederick Leader of Distinction

Seventeen years ago, U.S. Senator Charles Mathias was retiring from Congress after eight years in the House of Representatives and eighteen years in the Senate demonstrating courageous personal efforts to further civil rights and begin the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort.

Today, legions of folks in Frederick no longer recognize his name. That is a serious defect of education and a sign of the decay of the community and its governance. We need models of political leaders and the effect of the good and great individual, which we seem to have lost in the loose mantra of 'character counts.'

At eighty-two years of age, his legs are weaker and he suffers some infirmities, but his personal vision is as clear as ever, and don't be surprised if tears seem to well up at the corners of his eyes as he recalls being a child living in the Thurmont area and playing in the streams. It was that love of nature and experience of clean water that led him those many years later to look to do something to help the Bay.

1970 saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the first Earth Day celebration. The initial Clean Water Act was only a year old. A first-term U.S. senator from Maryland, he was increasingly hearing reports about something amiss in his own backyard. People on and near the Chesapeake had a host of complaints: seafood harvests were down, grass beds were disappearing, raw sewage and industrial wastes were pouring into the water.

“Each problem led to another problem,” Mathias said. “It finally became clear that we needed a comprehensive study of the Bay. Not just one issue at a time, but how the issues related to each other.” It took nearly two years to secure support. With so many federal agencies having a hand in the Bay, it was unclear who should lead the study. Others didn’t see the point. People asked “what could you do with this type of a study? What good is it?” Mathias recalled. “We had to prove that.”

He went to see for himself. He left the Port of Baltimore on a five-day, 450-mile tour of the Chesapeake Bay. Then-EPA Administrator Russell Train was along for part of the trip, as was Interior Secretary Rogers Morton. Mathias talked to more than 150 people, from businessmen to government officials to watermen to farmers to scientists.

The boat trip gave him a sense of the diverse problems facing the Bay, from discharge pipes leading out of cities, to runoff in rural areas, to the loss of grass beds almost everywhere. “By pulling all of these things together, you got a comprehensive picture of what all the problems of the Bay were,” he said. “They were not just one thing.”

Ultimately, the EPA got $25 million for a five-year study. It's final analysis, in 1983, led to the formation of the state-federal Chesapeake Bay Program partnership.

Mathias was also a drafter of many key civil rights laws, and proud of his role. "Segregation was not just a legal theory," Mathias said. "It was a fact. Our whole society was organized to enforce segregation. This was a way of life, [but] it's hard to believe it. I can remember education under separate but equal. And I can tell you it was separate, but it wasn't equal."

To know about Charles Mathias is to recognize character as counting for something precious and affirming in society. In an age and place lacking comity and class, it would serve us well to recall a public servant who accomplished changes that led to great public goods. And for us to know that he was from Frederick County, a Republican, an environmentalist, and stood as a liberal within his party, which is rare indeed today.

We can only hope to see his like again.

A Note of Special Thanks to the Bay Journal for the quotations of Mathias from an article, and for being a rare publication that gives its information as free and public material, much in the spirit of the internet and environmental community!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The First City of Frederick

Long before the City of Frederick was a gleam in Daniel Dulaneys colonial eye, a few hundred people lived along the Monocacy River in a late Woodlands Indian village which contemporary archeologists have called the Rosenstock site, named for the family farm on which it was found. This was the 'First Frederick', a permanent inhabitation over several hundred years. Unlike the scattered hunting campsites and short term occupations, the Rosenstock inhabitation included planted crops, and over time, human burials.

Unlike most such village sites in Maryland, even the deep furrowed colonial plows found the site difficult to plow because of limestone outcroppings. This fact left the site's ground less disturbed. The fire and trash pits left behind by the Native Americans were mostly intact. Remnants of a sweat lodge and post hole molds showing a roughly oval village layout were evident in archeological digs in the 1992 timeframe. At that time, hundreds of local volunteers participated in a tangible past by assisting in the digs, which over a couple summers, yielded a rich treasure trove of artifacts, while only encompassing a small fraction of the site.

The state holds an historical easement to protect the site. And the Archeological Conservancy has worked for a number of years to acquire the site and permanently protect it. Still at issue, is that the site is likely not a unique lot separated from its larger parcel, and in the City of Frederick planning process, that leaves open the question of resurvey and possibly subdivision of the property. In addition, creating a deeded lot is a nonconforming use of the property because it would require right of way through the City's golf course as it is not located on a roadway.

These issues have held up the necessary final approvals for setting aside this important archeological site and preserving the history of the First Frederick. Local activists are working on telling this story to the new City administration, in hopes they will move forward with a permanent preservation plan. If accomplished, this will be a national news story with great positive press for the city at a time it is under the gun for its growth and development decisions.

I am hopeful the details can be worked out.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Will It be Progress or Retrenchment in Frederick County?

Within days of an early campaign launch, District 3A candidate and current Delegate Galen Clagett has said in the pages of the Frederick News-Post that it’s time for a change, telling builders and developers that “…we’ve lost control…” because of local government discouraging growth, applauded developers suing in court instead of solving problems legislatively, and that “…it’s baseball bat time.”

Long on fighting words, and short on bringing state funds back home, appearing good in legislator ratings and environmental concerns, but meddling in Frederick City and county political races, the change Clagett seeks after many years in office, looks to need to be a change in who holds the District 3A seat.

Citizens who’ve struggled to bring Frederick County to a better front on growth management, environmental matters, and planning ordinances cannot consider Delegate Clagett a friend in anything besides the enrichment of his development friends at the expense of the public.

He goes well beyond the moderation of truly working with all sides and sharing builders concerns, he has applied his power in the interest of unbridled growth as economic good, the myths of losing out if we don’t kowtow to sprawl. At every turn he has sought to impede county ordinances to strengthen planning control. He has allied himself with the radical fringe of the industry who call out every small regulation as draconian and destructive.

These interests are stirring the pot on the next election because they've taken a dose of what good can come from public arousal to traffic impacts and poor roads, sprawl housing and public costs, and broad unending annexations rather than infill redevelopment and transit oriented growth. Our county leadership is not a jihad, it’s responsible and public interest government.

Despite this current national struggle towards a new economic reality and productivity and job growth, it is not local policy that is at fault, nor local action that can recover through a continuation of poor past planning policy and opening the door to what the development community wants, running roughshod over town is not what builds good communities and strong economic relationships.

Whatever the faults and fears of the nation since Y2K through last week, including the terrorist attacks and the outfalls of wars around the globe, here at home it should be defined as - a decade of great environmental accomplishment and good growth stewardship in Frederick County.

Those accomplishments came after dedicated citizen efforts and the determination of public officials, after the rise of new direction through the ballot box and the fall of the old guard of growth and development as panacea. That however, is not over. It is far from over. The special interest forces are aligned and working to be stronger than ever.

Where the county improved its stance, the City of Frederick has fallen back on its ways of poorly planned growth policy. After the northern annexation battles, the City recently pushed again towards sprawl growth into areas that may not even have the basis of water and sewerage provisions.

We move forward today, with another electoral turn coming next year – will it proceed towards the good, or fall back on itself because of citizen apathy, strengthened opposition, and the public rebuke of the proponents?

It helps to review a few of the many successes of the current county Board of Commissioners.

What are the overriding outcomes for Frederick County over the past decade?

Comprehensive Countywide Planning succeeds the Regional Plan concept. After the lengthy public political struggle over the New Market Region Plan passed by the previous Board of County Commissioners, the current board decided to condense the planning process and completely revamp comp planning as a county-wide singular process, then to move on to county-wide rezoning to match the new plan. It is still moving forward today, along with rewriting various zoning ordinances that control the outcomes of the whole vision and zoning projections with concrete requirements.

County-wide stream buffers are enacted. A keystone accomplishment for Frederick County, after years of opposition to Monocacy River buffer protections and associated wetlands and stream protections, it was ultimately watershed protection of drinking water sources that determined the changes required to insure water quality. The new regulations were broad and comprehensive, comparatively a state-wide top accomplishment.

Schools – new, improved, funded, protected by growth management, but the recent municipal growth plans and annexations have once again threatened efforts and poised a challenge to meeting the needs of other communities and citizens awaiting their turn at funds for improvements and maintenance.

Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance policy updates responded to a variety of issues. Concerns on providing emergency services and qualify of life have prevailed, these efforts add to our value as a jurisdiction seeking economic investment and employment prospects.

Conservation zone house acreage requirement increases were enacted.

Storm water and runoff reductions placed on construction and impervious surfaces are continuing to enhance our water quality and environmental impacts. And if you don’t think that water quality is important, or worth the expense and effort, just talk with someone in a community where good clean drinking water is either not available, or instead a risk to health and well being. Drop in wellhead protection as another effort in this regards.

Trees - increasing tree plantings and conservation, enacting improvements to forest ordinances and development of green infrastructure planning to connect existing natural areas with corridors for wildlife, scenic beauty and environmental protections. Add to that Priority Preservation of vast acreage of choice farmland and natural areas.

These are but a few of the good faith efforts brought along by a dedicated county government with good leadership all around, are we to allow the special interests and growth myths to revive their control over our lives for their personal benefit? Are we going to allow them to rule through politicians that despise our full interests, the costs and impacts of unbridled growth? I for one, hope dearly that is not the case. It is time for these old interests to fail, for all our builders and developers to truly become good corporate citizens as well as economic beneficiaries of our communities.

It is a shame that we have been under the spell of the two faces of Delegate Clagett. On one side the admirable votes, contrasted by his focused special interests. He has now been around long enough to have gained a position of some power, but has it accomplished it’s full good?

He has used his bully pulpit to challenge the good of citizens through local government. He has pointed to his bald faced truth, he wants control! He stands against all but special interests and seeks to build up a slate against the good growth policies we’ve finally started to achieve and enjoy as a response to past abuses and failures.

Sitting on state Appropriations should mean funds for our area to make improvements to mitigate the impacts of the poor growth he proclaims. He can pick up the phone and reach state leadership, but does he call for our local good?

He has built up a long tenure and relationships over years, and a segment of older voters have found reasons to approve of his positions, but the weight of his action has shifted and his understanding of our situation is out dated.

Clagett’s campaign organization is on the ground and his self advertisement has begun, his background string pulling for local growth candidates has been well underway for some time, even if it turns out to be mostly a smoke filled rooms and mirrors influence.

Powerful special interest forces and effective sums of money for these candidates will align in an unholy alliance given the changes being placed through county growth management. Citizens stand to lose in all regards unless the fervor of public sentiment harkens back to the 2006 county elections. The problem this time is that the boogeymen in office then are no longer available to rile the masses. Clagett and friends will present a positive, clean cut face and a well oiled message.

We’ve trusted Clagett with position and power, but has his response been worthy of our vote? I think that he has lacked in this regards, and that now it is time for the tenure and persuasion of Delegate Clagett to end!

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