Another hearing is expected in the future.
Frederick, Md (KM). There’s expected to be a second hearing on proposed changes to Frederick County’s Forest Resource Ordinance. Some amendments were presented to the County Council Tuesday night.
The Council had two bills before it. One is sponsored by County Executive Jan Gardner and the second by Council President Bud Otis. Both bills require developers who chop down trees for their construction projects to make up for those loses, either by planting new trees on their properties, planting new trees on forests away from their projects, or through the county’s forest banking program.
Gardner’s bill generated support from environmentalists, but opposition from builders and developers who felt it would create an undue hardship.
For the past several weeks, farmers, environmentalists, developers and business people got together to come to consensus on how to resolve this problem. They came up with amendments to be added to the forest resource ordinance.
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater worked with the group. “We basically looked at the changes that were recommended in both bills, and included only in the amendments those that were mutually agreed upon by all the parties,” she said. Fitzwater also said the group will probably meet again to come up with other changes.
Also working with these citizens was Councilman Tony Chmelik. “And I think the goal here in Frederick County is to show that we truly want to preserve our forests, and especially our ecologically sensitive areas,” he said.
The Council voted 5-2 to accept the amendments, with Councilmen Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter in opposition.
Following that vote, Council President Otis made a successful motion to withdraw his bill. He praised the group for talking to each other rather than at each other. “Conversation and compromise is good for our community and for this country,” he said. “In Washington, we have two extremes right now, and that’s not good. We need to talk to each other and try to work together on these bills.”
With amendments being introduced, the Council must hold a second hearing on the bill. No date has been set.
In other business, the Council took testimony on a bill to amend the ordinance covering development rights and responsibilities agreements. DRRA’s are agreements with developers and the county on how their projects will progress. It freezes zoning laws and fees at the time of the agreement.
The amendments to the bill introduced by County Executive Gardner cap DRRA’s to five years with a possible five-year extension. They would only be allowed for developments of 1500 or more homes. It would specify which laws and fees will apply under a DRRA; and the developer would be required to provide enhanced public benefits.
Representatives from the development community testified in opposition. Denise Jacobi with the Builders Association and the Land Use Council said five years is not enough time to complete a large project. of 1500 or more homes. “In our world, five years, plus another five, is not going to get a 1500-home subdivision or community built. It’s just not feasible at all,” she said.
But Steve McKay from Monrovia took issue with that. “That argument is a distraction. It’s a charade for one simple reason: DRRA’s were never intended to last through completion of a development,” he said. “You wouldn’t think that given the 20 and 25-year contracts the BoCC handed out like candy, but it’s true. DRRA’s were never intended to last through build out.”
The last Board of County Commissioners entered into some DRRA’s which were 18, 20 and 25 years.
Also testifying was Attorney Paul Rose with Miles and Stockbridge. He said developments themselves are a benefit to the public. “The developer is giving quite a lot as part of the rezoning, and would never have agreed to build out a project giving all that it’s required to give–schools, millions and millions of dollars in exactions–without the certainty that a DRRA provides,” he said.
Board of Education Member Joy Schaefer testified in support of the ordinance. “I also think it gives us flexibility as a county to address market changes and changes in demand for housing,” she said. “As we look forward, we know we’re going to have a lot more seniors. That population is growing. There’s a dearth of affordable housing for that population.”
No decision was made by the Council on the amendments to the ordinance covering DRRA’s.
By Kevin McManus