Analysis and Opinion of Alderman C. Paul Smith
The annexations are not being entertained as a way to generate tax revenue. In my opinion that would not be a good reason to annex a property. I will only vote to annex properties that I believe will bring more net benefits to the city than by not annexing them.
The only reason these two properties are being considered for annexation is because the property owners are requesting it. I’m sure they are requesting it because they wish to make some money on the sale of their property in connection with development of the property. Because of this incentive, the property owners are willing to pay to be annexed—they are willing to give the city some property for roads, schools and/or other purposes, and/or they are willing to make other valuable contributions. The annexation agreements under consideration secure such benefits for the City. For the right amount of contributions from the property owners, the annexations can be very beneficial to the City. There are two primary benefits that these two properties can offer the city: (1) valuable land and/or cash contributions for the building of the grade-separated intersection on US 15 @ Biggs Ford Road; and (2) land that can be used for major employment campuses for large, Fortune 500 companies—like Bechtel, IBM, MedImmune, State Farm, etc. I will discuss each of these.
The building of a grade-separated intersection on US 15 at Biggs Ford Road is a critical road improvement for our future, imminent growth. This intersection improvement has been on City, County and State plans for twenty years. This intersection is the northern terminus of the I-270/US 15 Multi-Modal Study—a 30-mile, $4 Billion improvement project that has many parts that are of critical importance to Frederick City and Frederick County. This intersection would also be the northern terminus of the North/South Parallel Road, which the City has had on its comprehensive plan and maps for many years. The North/South Parallel Road would be a limited access highway that would be an eastern by-pass for traffic coming north on I-270 from Montgomery County and continuing north on US 15 (or visa versa). The building of this road would alleviate rush-hour congestion in the City on US 15. This interchange is extremely important to the long term plans of the City and the County, and through the annexation applications, both of the property owners will be contributing the required land to build it. This is a substantial contribution that is extremely valuable to the City. If the property owners do not commit to pay for this during annexation, then later the government would have to pay them for this land in order to improve the intersection. This is an enormous benefit!
The County projects that its population will be 326,000 by 2030. This is an increase of about 90,000. The City projects its population to increase to 90,000+ by 2030—an increase of 30,000+. The growth rate for both the City and the County in this time frame is projected to be about 30-35%. It is critical that the City, County and State make concrete plans and take specific actions to prepare for this growth. The growth will happen because our County is one of the most attractive places to live in the entire state. In addition to this growth, the adjacent jurisdictions will also continue to grow—that is Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington County. And their traffic will go through Frederick City and will add to our already excessive traffic congestion. It is of critical importance for the City, the County, the State and the federal government to anticipate this tremendous growth, and to build the road improvements that are necessary. Otherwise, the terrible traffic congestion we now have will continue to get worse, until it ruins the quality of life for all of us. The traffic congestion is already so bad that most residents avoid going out during rush hours. This hurts businesses, and it wastes time for all of us. And what is the County doing to address this problem? The answer is: “Clearly not enough!” They should not be trying to block these projects that will provide a critical, essential improvement to our already excessive congestion.
It is a mistake to pretend that growth and increased vehicle traffic will not occur in Fredrick County. The County’s effort to stop growth is a futile and wasteful approach. The growth will come. But if we plan for it, we can build the needed improvements cheaper. On the other hand, if we pretend that we can stop growth and try to stop it, then we will have to pay a higher price later on when already congested roads become so dire that even the most stubborn officials will acknowledge that road improvements are needed. Those who are looking ahead 20, 30 and 50 years will acknowledge that now is the time to plan for the needed road improvements.
Obtaining federal funds is an important part of building the needed road improvements. But we will not get the federal help we need as long as the County refuses to acknowledge the need for these improvements. The No-Growth attitude that is manifest by the current Board of County Commissioners is already hurting the City and the County. The County should be fighting to fund the Biggs Ford Road interchange, rather than debating whether to eliminate this intersection from its future plans.
The Crumland and Thatcher/COPT properties offer the City (and the County) the opportunity to bring top-rate employers to the area, so that more of our residents can work near their homes. This is a fundamental principle of smart growth–to bring jobs to the places where people live. Increasing the number of good jobs that the City has to offer our community is exactly the type of growth that we should aggressively pursue. Success at this will allow more local residents to work where they live. This planning approach is acknowledged to be a very desirable sustainability practice. In addition, the businesses that create these jobs will not be a drain on city and county finances, but rather will bring in more revenues than the cost to support them. And the development of such employment centers off of US 15 will include significant green spaces that can be beautifully landscaped; there will be no new residences on the Thatcher/COPT land, and the residences on the Crumland property will be far away from US 15. The best place for big employment centers is close to the City.
The residential development of the Crumland Farm property is contingent upon the developer first improving one mile of Willowbrook Road. This is an expensive and sorely needed road improvement that can eventually be extended to the Biggs Ford Road interchange. This area of residential development can help serve many of the 3,000 new jobs that will be coming to Ft. Detrick. And, again, the Biggs Ford Road interchange can relieve substantial traffic that comes south on US 15 and which currently exits onto Hayward Road or Opossumtown Pike.
The Crumland and Thatcher/COPT properties are both very large—large enough to be attractive to national, Fortune 500-type companies. There are very few, if any remaining tracts of land around the City that are large enough, and that have the easy access to a major highway, so that they could attract the best companies. The Crumland and Thatcher/COPT properties are uniquely attractive to the employers that the City seeks to attract. This type of growth, in these areas, provides a good transition from the city to the rural parts of the county. And, again, the best planning principles would place the major employment campuses exactly at such a spot. Both properties are right next to the proposed major transit stop at Monocacy Blvd. and US 15.
The full development of the Thatcher/COPT site cannot take place until either the Monocacy Blvd/US 15 interchange or the Biggs Ford Road/US 15 interchange is completed and operational. This will insure that the development here does not overly tax the capacity of US 15. In addition, Thatcher/COPT will have significant incentive to contribute financially to the building of both of these intersections. (As stated elsewhere, Thatcher/COPT are committed to contribute the land required to build the Biggs Ford interchange.) The building of a grade-separated intersection on US 15 at Monocacy Blvd. is acknowledged by the City, the County and the State to be a critical road improvement for our future, imminent growth. The City has already put at least $2 million into this project. With the 3,000 new jobs coming to Ft. Detrick, it is extremely important that this interchange be built. It will take a lot of pressure off of the Rosemont Avenue, Seventh Street, and Motter Ave./Opossumtown Pike interchanges. It will allow the State to close down the Hayward Road intersection, which will be an important safety improvement. The Monocacy Blvd. interchange will be one of the final legs to the Monocacy Blvd/Christopher’s Crossing roads that will create a northwestern, beltway type route to connect US 15 to US 40; this can take traffic off of the congested US 15 corridor. And on the northeastern quadrant, this beltway route will connect US 15 with US 40 east of town. This, too, will take traffic off of the US 15 corridor.
Some have suggested that it would be better to improve vacant properties in the city, rather than to annex these two properties. This is a faulty comparison. There are no other properties in the city that offer the road improvement opportunities and the major employment campuses that these two properties offer.
There is no question that the mountains, farms and rural lands that surround Frederick City are beautiful and add to the quality of life of living in Frederick. I recognize that when these two properties are developed, the cornfields will be replaced by employment office campuses. I will miss the farmland. But I believe that these areas, immediately adjacent to the current city boundaries are the best locations for these employment campuses. And I believe they can be landscaped beautifully. Again, there will be no residences along either side of US 15 on these two properties.
Helping to secure a strong and vibrant economy is the most important thing that elected official can do for his/her jurisdiction; this will help the jurisdiction to survive and even thrive when other communities are struggling. Securing a strong employment base is of critical importance for the entire region, and the two contemplated northern annexations can help to do this. These areas have been a part of the County’s and the City’s plans as projected expansion areas for the city for twenty years. It is bad planning for the County to now change its mind and attempt to undo what City and County planners have envisioned for at least twenty years.
Last I heard, the County Commissioners were threatening to deny sewer service to these two properties if the City does annex them. (The City will be able to provide water to these properties; one of the benefits of the Potomac River Water Supply Agreement was to secure this opportunity for the City.) If the County sticks to this threat 5 – 10 years from now, when the properties would be developed, then this would bring about a very interesting conflict. On the one hand, the County controls the sewer system that should serve these two areas. But the Maryland Department of Environment has some influence over the allocation of water to the County and the City. And in this situation, where for twenty years the City and County have planned for the City to expand into this area, the State would not look favorably upon the County if it were to withhold sewer service, or to require the City to build a separate sewer plant to service this area. I predict that the County will ultimately cooperate, because the consequence of refusing to give service would cost them more than it would be worth.
There is no residential development planned for Thatcher/COPT. This is the property east of US 15, next to the Monocacy River. That property is to be entirely dedicated to a major employment campus, which will be beautifully landscaped, including a linear park along the banks of the Monocacy River. The development of this property will have no direct impact on schools.
The Crumland Farm property will also feature a large employment campus next to US 15, and it too will be beautifully landscaped. The residences built on Crumland will be on the other side of the employment campus, away from US 15. There will be 10-15 acres dedicated to the building of an elementary school on this property, an additional 10 acres for park land, and an additional 22 acres that can be used for other public purposes, such as a fire station.
You and a few others have suggested that maybe some deal has been cut to cause the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to rush into these annexations. As for me, that is absolutely false. And I believe I know the other Aldermen well enough to say that such a notion is absurd. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support such an accusation. I would point out, however, that because of the controversial nature of these annexations, it appears to me that some candidates would just as soon avoid weighing in on this issue. But I am in favor of the annexations (if we can get appropriate concessions from the property owners) because they can be a tremendous help to the City in meeting our future needs.
Some have also suggested that the City is rushing into the annexations. That is not my impression. I have and am thoroughly considering the annexation petitions very closely. I have made comments, suggestions and some demands on these annexations to insure that the City is not only protected, but that it is benefited by them. At this point, I am satisfied that we have exacted significant and valuable concessions from both of these applicants, and that the annexations will be extremely valuable to the City. Based upon this, it is in the City’s best interest to secure these agreements now. As I said before, the applicants are willing to pay to be annexed now. If they are not annexed, then the government will have to buy the land (at a higher price) to complete the needed road improvements.
To those who contend that it is irresponsible of the City to annex Crumland Farm and Thatcher/COPT, I respond that this is exactly wrong. Based on my thorough analysis of both of these annexation petitions/agreements, it would be irresponsible for the City to deny these annexation requests if it secures the benefits that are now on the table. Both of these annexations are major, positive steps to help the City achieve its long-standing planning goals to improve traffic and to make Frederick an even better place to live and work.