Preservation group to sue over plan to build 1,100 homes in Frederick County -- Gazette.Net


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A local land-preservation group will take legal action after the Frederick County Board of Appeals denied its appeal challenging the legitimacy of a binding agreement between the county and a developer to build 1,100 homes in the southern part of the county.

The lawyer for Friends of Frederick County Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan group formed in 2005 to fight urban sprawl and promote good government, said on Dec. 27 that he will file a lawsuit in Frederick County Circuit Court after the five-member Board of Appeals earlier in the month unanimously upheld an agreement between the county and the developers of the Landsdale Planned Unit Development.

“We will be appealing their decision,” attorney David Brown said. Brown said the group has 30 days from Dec. 21 to file its appeal.

In August, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners entered into an agreement with the developers of Landsdale — Monocacy Ventures, LLC, Monocacy Investments MC, LLC, and Monocacy Investments CI, LLC — that allows the developers to build 1,100 homes on the west side of McClain Road, north of Md. 80, in Monrovia.

The binding agreement will remain intact for 25 years, so future boards will be unable to overturn it.

The Maryland General Assembly approved a law in 1995 mandating that, once a county government signed such an agreement with a developer, it cannot be overturned by a newly-elected board. Under the law, counties and municipalities in the state can enter into such agreements.

The agreement gives a developer the right to build homes and businesses that cannot be undone, but also stipulates that infrastructure improvements — such as schools, roads, water and sewer service — the builder must make to accommodate the new growth.

Since April, the commissioners have entered into six other such agreements with different developers in the county.

As part of the agreement, the developer will pay the county certain fees for the right to build in Monrovia.

The money includes $6.3 million for school construction improvements in the form of a “School Mitigation Construction Fee,” and $15.2 million in impact fees that are charged to each new home. That money also is slated for school construction.

On Dec. 20, Friends of Frederick County appeared before the board of appeals, arguing that the agreement went beyond state statue by freezing the current building excise tax rate, which is set at zero, for 25 years.

In November 2011, the commissioners cut the rate from 75 cents per square foot for commercial buildings and 25 cents per square foot for housing to zero because they wanted to make it less expensive for developers to build and create jobs. The money collected from the tax paid for state road and bridge improvements.

Brown said state statue allows such agreements to freeze such factors as the number of homes the developer can build and the density of the project, but not the excise tax rate.

“This prevents future boards from having the ability to change the [rate],” he said. “This board will not be here 25 years from now. [Freezing it for] fifteen years is long enough.”

But the appeals board shot down the challenge on Dec. 21.

Frederick County Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) emphasized Monday that under on the agreement, the developers will actually pay more for road improvements to handle traffic near the development than they would have paid in excise taxes.

The developers of Landsdale have agreed to pay over $3 million in road improvements, which averages out to $2,700 per home, Young said.

Under the former excise tax, on a 3,000-square-foot house, for example, the developer would have paid $470 per unit, bringing in a total of $500,000 for road improvements, he said.

“We got more out of the [agreement] than they would have paid in excise taxes,” he said. “[Friends of Frederick County] is acting like we don’t care about the roads. But the two biggest components [in the agreement] are roads and schools.”

However, one Monrovia resident who attended the Dec. 20 hearing spoke out against the appeals board’s decision.

“When I found out about the Landsdale development two weeks prior to the appeal I was heartbroken,” Amy Reyes, who is not a member of Friends of Frederick County, said in an email. “My main concern was with the schools. Overcrowding is already an issue throughout a lot of schools in Frederick County.... I was also saddened to find that they disregarded the residents who live off of Ed McClain Road. That road will barely fit two cars now....”

Prior to the hearing, she went door-to-door informing neighbors of the project, Reyes said.

She also sent a notice on Dec. 13 to the parents of students who attend Green Valley Elementary School in Monrovia, encouraging them to attend the hearing.

Reyes’s children attend Green Valley Elementary.

Young, who lives in Monrovia and also has a child who attends Green Valley, countered with a Dec. 18 letter to parents, in an effort to correct what he said was false information in the notice.

“...The notice sent home last week indicated a number of clearly misleading and outright false statements regarding the Landsdale [Planned Unit Development],” Young wrote.

For example, Reyes’ notice listed nine schools — Green Valley elementary, Windsor Knolls Middle School, Linganore High School, Urbana elementary, Urbana middle, Urbana high, Centerville elementary, Oakdale middle and Kemptown elementary — that will be impacted by Landsdale.

But Young said in his letter that Urbana elementary, Urbana Middle, Centerville Elementary, Oakdale Middle and Kemptown elementary will not be impacted by the development.

Reyes’ letter said that 1,100 single-family homes will be built, but Young said that 800 single-family homes and 300 townhouses will be built.

The developers could not be reached for comment.

Young said in an interview Friday that he was not surprised by the Friends’ decision to file another lawsuit. The organization has filed other lawsuits challenging growth decisions in the county, the city of Frederick and New Market.

“They will likely lose, just like they have lost every other frivolous lawsuit they have filed,” Young said.

Another lawsuit filed by the group, which is pending in circuit court, challenges a section of the Landsdale agreement that allows developers to change its zoning from building homes for adults 55 and older to people of all ages to market the homes to more people.

At a Dec. 18 news conference, the group announced that it also had filed a lawsuit against the September rezoning of almost 9,000 acres of county farmland by the commissioners. The group filed the lawsuit with the Audubon Society of Central Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

sgreenfield@gazette.net