Calvert County Commissioners Approve TDR Program Reforms

A May 22 SoMdNews article reported that Calvert County Board of County Commissioners have approved amendments that would reform the county’s transferable development rights (TDR) program.  The move is aimed at reinvigorating the program and increasing development in town centers.  From the article:

The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to direct staff to move forward with text amendments to the town center master plans and zoning ordinances making the amount of TDRs required based on housing unit type, a suggestion from a group of stakeholders in the development and agricultural communities. …

In recent years, the county’s market for TDRs has been stagnant. TDRs are a means for farmers to preserve their land by selling the development rights to a developer who then builds housing units elsewhere in the county. The county has 12,300 TDRs that are unused or unretired, said Veronica Cristo, county rural planner. About 20,000 acres of farmland have been preserved in the county out of a goal of 40,000 acres. Additionally, the zoning ordinance doesn’t encourage a variety of housing types, said Jenny Plummer-Welker, long-range planner. …

The proposal is to change the TDR requirement from the current five TDRs per dwelling unit above one dwelling unit per acre to a reduced number of TDRs based on dwelling unit above one dwelling unit per acre, according to Tuesday’s presentation. Additionally, the group of stakeholders from the development and agricultural communities suggested discontinuing the ordinance in the Prince Frederick Town Center for a back yard to equal the size of a building’s footprint and to reduce the setback regulations for the Prince Frederick Town Center.

 

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement Management Strategies Being Finalized

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Maryland joined the other Chesapeake Bay states in signing a broad new watershed agreement in June of 2014.  This agreement was less specific than the 3 prior agreements but its 10 goals and 29 outcomes included new issues, such as climate change and pollution from toxins.   Conduit Street also reported that management strategies would be created through the Chesapeake Bay Program for each of the 29 outcomes.  Each Bay state would choose which of the outcomes it wished to pursue – Maryland chose to pursue all 29 outcomes.

The strategies are currently being finalized, with public comment ending a few weeks ago.  The strategies cover a broad range of issues, including climate adaptation, fish habitat, forest buffers, wetlands, 2017 and 2025 watershed implementation plans, toxic contaminants policy and prevention, land use methods and metrics development, local leadership, and diversity.  Many of these strategies have the potential to affect local governments,  although only those strategies dealing with water quality specifically require local government participation.

Once the strategies are finalized, work with begin on creating work plans to implement the strategies.  Draft work plans are expected to be finished by October and put out for public comment.  Completed work plans will be due in late December of 2015 or mid-January of 2016.

The Bay Program continues to hold meetings on the different strategies and work plans.  For example, the Partnering and Leadership Goal Team, which is finalizing the local leadership management strategy, met on May 18.

Please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org if you have questions about the management strategies or work plans or upcoming goal team meetings.

Chesapeake Bay Management Strategies Dashboard

Chesapeake Watershed Agreement 2014

Planning and Public Input Key Factors For Transit-Oriented Development & Rail Projects

A May 20 Sustainable Cities Network article examined the factors that led to successful transit oriented development (TOD) and light rail projects in areas such as Denver, Atlanta, and Charlotte, and concluded that early planning are citizen input are critical components.  Excerpts from the article are presented below:

Denver, Colorado, West Colfax W Line Project

The W  Line connects Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood with the rail line’s mixed use Union Station hub.

Two major themes are echoed by transportation professionals working with communities on bringing mass transit to their neighborhoods: the need for 1) forethought and 2) cooperation. Scott Reed, Denver Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) assistant general manager of Communications, discussed both.

“One of the main things,” he said, “is a long lead time in the planning process. We found that having a more integrated approach where we dovetail our planning with municipalities and communities and in turn seek partnerships with the development community to take a look at and participate actively in planning and zoning processes can result in the best possible community centered around access to transit.”

Atlanta, Georgia, Atlanta BeltLine Project

The Atlanta BeltLine project will connect dozens of neighborhoods (some isolated and historically segregated) around a 22-mile transit, trail, and park corridor surrounding downtown Atlanta by 2030.  The corridor will replace an old rail system.

“We were mandated legislatively to have a community engagement framework,” Atlanta Beltline Inc. Communications and Media Relations Manager Jenny Odom said. “So what we did over the course of some years is broke the BeltLine into 10 sub-areas and went to each area and worked with each community, specifically about things they would like to see in their neighborhood. We developed 10 sub-area master plans, all adopted by city council. We’re now working on a unified plan to bring elements together.” …

“For the most part, the railroad was a dividing line between neighborhoods,” Odom said. “So to have this reunification of these different types of neighborhoods as [old rail] tracks come out, these neighborhoods all of a sudden coming together across socioeconomic lines, is really powerful.”

The BeltLine master plan also has an affordable housing component that requires more than 5,500 units of affordable housing in the vicinity of the project funded via tax allocation district bonds. While not quite 1,000 units have been developed, Odom said the city is working on a plan to pick up the pace.

Charlotte, North Carolina, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS)

CATS oversees transit throughout the City of Charlotte, including bus and light rail systems.

According to CATS Public and Community Relations Manager Krystel Green, [the transit system’s 5-year bus service plan]includes “intensive community education and feedback that engages residents, neighborhoods, businesses and employers. … With each plan, we engage the community and get citizen feedback. It is important to CATS to work with citizens and understand how their lives will be impacted.”

The city of Charlotte extends similar principles to its work with the community on its light rail which is in the process of adding an extension that runs through several residential areas. “CATS does a great deal of work with citizens in the beginning stages … to collect their feedback,” Green said. The city even has an “Art-In-Transit” team that has partnered with neighborhood schools, with children providing pictures, poems and prose that will be incorporated in station designs.

 

St. Mary’s County Commissioners Endorse Regional Ag Park Proposal

A May 8 Bay Net article reported that St. Mary’s County Commissioners have heard and endorsed a proposal to create a regional agriculture park in Southern Maryland. The proposed Southern Maryland Agricultural Business Park and Food Innovation Center would be a centrally-located facility and include centers for new farmer incubation, food distribution, start-up food innovators, regional meat processing, aquaculture processing, equipment storage, indoor and outdoor farm markets, and a café and deli. From the article:

According to Southern Maryland Agriculture Development Commission (SMADC) Executive Director Dr. Christine Bergmark, proposals would be solicited shortly for expression of interest in the project including a site for the new facility, which would be funded through tobacco restitution monies, federal funding and foundations. There would be local tax monies used to pay for the land and facility. …

Bergmark and SMADC member Eddie Bowling of Charles County made the presentation to the commissioners, who decided to sign a letter endorsing the idea. Commissioners from the other four counties covered by SMADC, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel have also been asked to endorse it. …

A bill passed during the recent session of the Maryland General Assembly, Senate Bill 909, gives the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland authority to use specified monies to purchase land for the proposed facility. That bill is awaiting the governor’s signature. The SMADC comes under the authority of the Tri-County Council.

Dr. Bergmark told the commissioners she optimistically hopes to have a site identified in the fall and completion of the facility by next summer. She said the proposal is a sustainable model. “We see this as an opportunity, a way to build long-term infrastructure,” she said.

The article also noted that some of the St. Mary’s Commissioners wanted the facility located in an area convenient to St. Mary’s farmers, such as the border between Charles and St. Mary’s Counties.

 

EPA Launches New Environment, Economic Development & Public Health Web Portal For Local Governments

In a May 11 communication, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the launch of a new web portal to assist local officials and community members address environmental, economic development, and public health issues.  From the communication:

As part of a commitment to making a visible difference in communities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching a new website to help local officials and community members find information for improving the environment, public health and quality of life.  Developed with input from local, state and federal partners, the Community Resources website provides access to resources that span the range of local concerns – from environmental regulatory compliance to economic revitalization to public health and environmental justice.

“As a former local official, I know firsthand the challenges communities face in juggling responsibilities and navigating multiple information sources,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “That’s why I’m pretty excited about this new resource. It’s just one of many ways EPA is looking to support local officials and community members who are working every day to build a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future.”

The Community Resources website leverages information from three existing community-oriented resources:

  • The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network, managed in partnership with the International City / County Management Association, provides information on environmental compliance and stewardship.
  • The National Resource Network, established by HUD as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative, offers practical solutions to help communities pursue economic development and growth.
  • The EPA Community Health site can help users learn about and improve local environmental health conditions.

EPA plans to add new information over time to better meet local needs.  Visitors can provide feedback via a link on the main page.

To access the Community Resources site: http://www.epa.gov/communities

 

Sustainable Growth Commission Nearing Completion On Smart Growth Indicators

At its May 11 meeting, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission reviewed a series of draft Smart Growth Objectives and Indicators that have been created by the Commission’s Concentrating Growth Workgroup since the beginning of 2015.  The Workgroup’s proposal caps a nearly 5 year effort to create a fair and credible set of measurements for Smart Growth and sustainability.  Once finalized, the objectives and indicators will be available review online at the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) website.

The objectives and indicators are broken down into five categories: (1) Development; (2) Agricultural and Environmental Resources; (3) Socioeconomic Equality; (4) Sustainable Transportation/Land Use; and (5) Economic Development.

Examples of proposed objectives from each category include:

  • Accommodate the vast majority of development in Priority Funding Areas (PFAs) and minimize development pressure on resource and environmentally sensitive lands [Development]
  • Outside PFAs/inside target conservation areas, residential fragmentation of resource lands and vulnerability to and threat of additional subdivision and development are minimized by local land use plans, zoning and other tools [Agricultural and Environmental Resources]
  • Populations of poverty and high risk are not geographically concentrated and isolated [Socio-Economic Equity]
  • Transportation, growth and redevelopment are planned and implemented in concert to: (1) enhance accessibility to destinations and efficient flow of goods and services within and between PFAs; (2) increase travel by alternatives to single occupancy vehicles such as walking, biking, transit, and carpooling, and; (3) reduce travel times, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources [Transportation/Land Use]
  • Physical assets (infrastructure) in PFAs have potential to support new business and employers [Economic Development]

Indicators are broken down statewide, by region (Capital Region, Baltimore Region, Upper Eastern Shore, Lower Eastern Shore,  Western Maryland, and Southern Maryland) and by individual county.  Some indicators measure a single piece of data while others are composites that are derived from blending several pieces of data. Not all objectives have indicators at this time.

Examples of indicators from each category include:

  • Accommodate development in PFAs/Minimize impacts to resources and lands (a composite of the percent of improved single family residential and commercial/institutional parcels and acres inside PFAs) [Development]
  • Land use stability (a composite of fragmentation of resource lands by residential development, vulnerability of resources lands to additional development under current local zoning, and threat to resource lands from additional development based on recent market demand) [Agricultural and Environmental Resources]
  • Concentrations of vulnerable populations [Socio-economic Equity]
  • Transportation/Land Use objective (a composite of transit-based job accessibility from PFAs in 45 minutes, percent of residential and employment populations within 1/2 of a rail station, percent of PFA jobs held by residents, and percent of commute trips by non-single occupancy vehicle modes) [Transportation/Land Use]
  • Percent change in number of jobs in PFAs [Economic Development]

Prince George’s County Planning Division Chief Derick Berlage and Workgroup Chair presented the proposal along with MDP staff.  Commission Chair Jon Laria stressed that the objectives and indicators are meant to serve as measurement points for Smart Growth and sustainability but are not intended to act as grades or criticisms of specific counties or regions.  He also noted that the objectives and indicators needed to be accompanied by a discussion of regional differences and that they were not meant to foster “one size fits all” policies.

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel and Sustainable Growth Commissioner Les Knapp praised the efforts of both the Workgroup and MDP staff but also indicated that he could not support the proposed objectives and indicators unless his previously submitted concerns were addressed.  Knapp’s concerns included: (1) modifications to several of the objectives; (2) greater discussion and acknowledgement of regional differences; (3) clearer notations of limitations and caveats of specific indicators; (4) removal of language that “editorialized” or undermined the neutrality of the indicators data; and (5) greater consistency in both presentation style and formatting.  Knapp and Garrett County Planning and Land Management Director Deborah Carpenter both questioned the basis of the land use stability indicator.

Laria, Berlage, and MDP staff indicated that the concerns raised by MACo could be addressed. Other commissioners raised minor concerns but offered no significant opposition.  The Commission expects to rewrite the draft objectives and indicators over the next several weeks and adopt a final product shortly thereafter.

If you have questions or concerns about the proposed objectives and indicators, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.

 

Silver Spring Homeowners Association Debate Raises Question of Who Actually Represents a Community

An April 30 Greater Greater Washington article explored the sometimes controversial issue of who actually constitutes and represents a community.  The question can raise heated debate between individuals, home owners associations, and community groups.  Local governments are sometimes be caught in the middle of such debates, which can create both political and planning challenges.  The article highlighted a recent unsuccessful effort by some members of the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Civic Association (SOECA) in Silver Spring to prevent new Chelsea Heights townhome residents from joining SOECA. Currently nearly all of the members of SOECA live in single-family homes.  From the article:

Last week, the SOECA board proposed an amendment to the civic association’s bylaws that would limit membership to “residents of the R-60 zoned areas,” or people living in single-family homes. The amendment would effectively bar the new townhouse residents from joining. The association already keeps out people living in a handful of small apartment buildings within the neighborhood’s borders, which are drawn to exclude nearby high-rise apartment buildings.

The proposal unleashed a fiery conversation in the normally sleepy neighborhood, both online and at a community meeting last night that 50 people attended. But after a vote, neighbors voted 32-17 against the change.

The article enumerated listed several concerns raised by SOECA members:

Why propose barring the future residents of Chelsea Heights from the neighborhood association? On the community listserv, some residents worried that the Chelsea Heights residents could join the civic association and “out-vote” existing residents on neighborhood issues, such as whether to restrict cut-through traffic.

“Will their interests as members of a higher-density tract development coincide with, complement or be in conflict with those of a neighborhood association composed of residents in single-family homes?” asked one resident.

The article also noted that some neighboring community groups do not limit their memberships based on housing type or a project that constitutes new growth and opined that such limitations can ultimately undermine and weaken a community group:

Liz Brent, a real estate agent and Seven Oaks-Evanswood resident for 20 years, says that the disagreement reflects a disconnect between how long-time residents and newer residents see the neighborhood.

“There are people who come [to Silver Spring] for the transportation, come here for the walkability, come here for the diversity,” she says. “I’m not saying the people who came here 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago don’t want the diversity. But people who are coming here now…that’s critical. It’s a sea change for people who have been here for 30 and 40 and 50 years.” …

Civic associations have a lot of sway in Montgomery County politics, largely because they’re so organized. They provide a voice to thousands of residents, and they have done a lot of good in the county, from organizing community events to fighting highway extensions that would have cut across Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

But civic groups also disenfranchise many people, whether by restricting membership to certain residents or by becoming adversarial towards people who disagree. That’s one reason why participation in civic associations across Montgomery County is in decline.

Carroll County Times Endorses Authority of Local Legislative Bodies to Amend Comp Plans

A May 11 Carroll County Times editorial, after weighing the pros and cons of the issue, endorsed the enactment of legislation (HB 919 / SB 551) passed by the Maryland General Assembly during the 2015 Session that would clarify the ability of a local legislative body in a non-charter county or municipality to substantively amend a comprehensive plan submitted by a planning commission.  Legislative bodies in charter counties already possess such amendment authority.  MACo successfully supported the legislation with some clarifying amendments. From the editorial:

The logic behind the opposition [to the bill] boils down to a concern that future county commissioners might be tempted to make significant changes, ostensibly undoing the work of the planners. Keep in mind that the commissioners wouldn’t have to make changes, but it’s easy to see how they might feel increased pressure to do so if they had the ability to wield that power. On the flip side, though, supporters of this bill, including six of Carroll’s seven delegates, say the legislation would help expedite process. Moreover, they believe the ultimate power belongs with elected officials, in this case the commissioners, who are accountable to voters.

“Right now, the process is convoluted and there is no clear delineation of who is responsible,” Del. Susan Krebs told us Friday.

While we find both arguments compelling, we agree with Krebs and others who believe the accountability argument carries more weight.

Governor Larry Hogan is set to sign HB 919 on May 12.  SB 551 is not on the bill signing schedule.

Carroll Commissioners Restructure Planning Department

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners has restructured the county’s Department of Land Use, Planning and Development. Effective June 1, 2015, the department will be split into two functions.

According to the Carroll County Times coverage,

In an effort to ensure checks and balances are in place during the master plan process, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners has decided to restructure the Department of Land Use, Planning and Development.

The department will be split into two groups, with the bureaus of Development Review, Agriculture Land Preservation, Zoning Administration and Resource Management under one director and the Bureau of Comprehensive Planning under a second. This change will take effect June 1.

Read the full Times article.

Garrett Commission Approves Phase One of New Emergency Management Operations Center

The Garrett County Commission recently approved a proposed project priority ranking list that includes phase one of the county’s new emergency management operations center. Garrett County Emergency Management may no longer operate from the Garrett County Airport due to Federal Aviation Administration restrictions.

The Cumberland Times-News states

A new 5,400-square-foot emergency operations center is proposed to be located in the McHenry Business Park.

The total cost of the project is $1 million, $500,000 will come from ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) and $500,000 will come from local/state funding. The total project cost is estimated at $3.4 million and will consist of multiple phases. Phase I includes architectural design and engineering, along with the commencement of the construction of the primary building structure, according to the minutes.

Th building will include a Emergency Operations Center (EOC); emergency services; administrative offices; training and conference rooms; a backup 911 Communications Center; an informational public lobby; and a storage facility for emergency response equipment, according to the minutes. The new facility will be structurally hardened, secure, and contain multiple resilient communications capabilities.

The center is staffed by emergency management personnel and all emergency support functions personnel, which includes up to 50 staff positions. Garrett County is the only county in the state that does not have an established emergency management facility to handle full-scale activations and provide backup 911 communications capabilities, according to the minutes.