|The following column was published in
February 2000, dating the Four Seasons controversy by a few months, but
which, in retrospect, seems chillingly prophetic.
Kent Island. The Grand Plan.
While a whole lot of Kent Islanders aren’t exactly thrilled with the choice of a WalMart Parking Lot as the prominent visual image that will greet hundreds of thousand visitors to the Eastern Shore, there are some people on the other side who fear it even more - The Merchants of Glen Burnie.
And they have every right to be scared. Because once WalMart is built and the parking lot fills up, those idealists among us who think that the area deserved better will quietly become resigned to the fact that this is our destiny. And ultimately we’ll come to the conclusion that our survival will be dependent on our ability to create the kind of economic development plan that made Bruning Highway what it is today.
That’s why it’s imperative that we put our differences aside and begin planning our future together. To begin the process, I have made a list of the kind progressive changes we must consider if we are going to be competitive with the western shore retail establishment.
• While we have made a good start with large, obtrusive, high-power lines in the Stevensville and the Thompson Creek area, we need to extend them from Duke Street through Chester along both sides of Route 50 to the Kent Narrows Bridge. If possible, they should be strategically located to mask the steeples of the many churches in the area. Religious symbols tend to be intimidating to shoppers and have an adverse affect on retail sales.
• Taking the lead from WalMart, we definitely need more specialty discount stores lining the highway. Personally I favor more bedding and furniture discount outlets, especially the ones advertising entire living room, dining room and bedroom suites for $799.
• To draw still more shoppers away from Glen Burnie, we will need several porno shops and topless bars. To give these shops an Eastern Shore flavor we can give them names like The Naked Crab and The Licentious Oyster.
• While we already have our share of fast food restaurants and gas stations, we’ll need more, of course.
• An off-track betting parlor is a must, as is a Monica Lewinski Lingerie Salon and a Pistols-To-Go gun shop. Duke Street, next to Stevensville Middle School, would be an ideal location for these.
• While we have a number of excellent retail boat sales outlets, we should plan on additional outlets specializing in cigarette boats like the ones favored by our new visitors. The picturesque Chester River could eventually become a Mecca for cigarette boats after we line its shores with dock bars and shops selling gold chains and thong bathing suits. The sight and sound of these boats charging up and down the river as far as the eye can see will be enough to bring tears to the eyes of boating enthusiasts everywhere.
• And finally, to accommodate the out-of-town employees that’ll will be moving here we should also plan on converting our quaint Stevensville shops into low cost housing.
These are just a few ideas that I believe will help turn Queen Anne’s County’s Grand Plan for Kent Island into reality.
This first Four Seasons column (9/27/00) was nine parts satire, one part painful truth.
I think the residents of Kent Island have judged our county planners too harshly of late. Although it's a tough job, I feel it's my duty to come to their defense.
Personally I believe you'd have more empathy for them if you understood more about their childhood. So I decided to research the early years of the individuals who would eventually become county planners and here's what I discovered.
As toddlers they were the ones who were actually successful in putting square pegs into round holes. Some claim they cheated by using sledgehammers, chain saws and explosives, but these critics were written off as poor losers.
In their pre-teen years aspiring
county planners gravitated to such hobbies as putting large ships into
small bottles. In later years these skills would serve them well as they
developed plans that would require more than half of a county's population
to live in 1/200th of its total land area.
Typically they would pass up a Grateful Dead concert for a really good fish kill. Several carloads were spotted just a couple years ago in a party mood headed toward the Pokomoke River trailing dark clouds of exhaust and displaying bumper stickers that read: "Honk if you love nutrient runoff!" and "Save Endangered Bulldozers!"
One expertise that is invaluable to aspiring planners was learned in Traffic 101 and 102. A good example of this is their brilliant solution to head off potential traffic problems associated with the proposed Four Seasons development. "We'll build another Route 50 overpass and enlarge the traffic circle," they said.
Of course they didn't actually come out and say where the overpass would be built or whom it would take where. I assume they are saving these details for the later planning stages. But you have to admit that enlarging the traffic circle is nothing short of brilliant. Even a layman like myself can appreciate how a very large traffic circle could successfully keep the three thousand new residents of the area traveling in a circle for up to 10 minutes at a time effectively keeping them from clogging all of the local roads that are designed to actually go someplace.
Of course, I have to admit that our planners may have overlooked some other little problems like the fact that this area already includes two elementary schools, a middle school, high school, fire house, library, historic area and the county's largest recreational park. Then there’s the fact that the area already gets Route 50 overflow from bridge backups, and in the near future we may be looking at up to five years of westbound span resurfacing. And did I mention the critical areas and quality of life?
But hey, these are details. And our planners are, after all, only human.
Planning ahea…. Part II
In my haste to defend county planners in last week’s column by researching their early years, I neglected to mention important first-hand knowledge I have of a critical turning point in Queen Anne’s planning and zoning strategy.
I found out about this quite by accident many years ago when I was going through the garbage of a former county commissioner. In his trash can, underneath an empty Popov Vodka bottle covered with coffee grounds, was the a printed transcript of an important late evening meeting of county officials in Centreville.
“I’ll see you and raise five,”
said the head of parks and recreation.
Wait, that was early in the
meeting. Perhaps I should move ahead to more relevant conversation.
“What we need, damn it, is more infrastructure!”
I can visualize this causing many in the room to stir uneasily in their seats wishing they had paid more attention in their “Local Government for Dummies” classes. But not everyone was deterred by the former commissioner’s technical reference.
“What the hell is infrastructure, anyway? And where do you get some of it?”
“Well, you know what a structure is,” said the parks and recreation head. “And you know how some people have belly buttons that go in. Those are called innies, as opposed to outies. So I believe that infrastructure is a structure that goes inward.”
“Infrastructure,” said the county planner chuckling, “is like sewers and stuff.”
“You got sewers, you got rats. The voters will never buy it!”
“How much do sewers cost?”
“I heard they cost a lot, but some people like ‘em”
“You start with a sewage treatment plant,” said the planner. “But then you can make homeowners pay for running the pipeline which is one of the biggest costs.”
“Why should they pay for a sewer if they already got a septic?”
"They won’t have a septic if the land don’t perc,” said the former commissioner with a knowing wink.
“The thing is, if you really want to make a sewer pay off, you need to get a lot of people living as close as possible to the treatment plant,” said the planner.
“How can you do that, we’ve got people spread all over God’s creation in this county? And they seem to like it that way.”
“Well, you just bring new people in from the other side.”
“But what about the people who already live here?”
“We’ll just tell them that it’s coming soon,” said the sanitation engineer.
“Good thinking! It’s your deal.”
“Seven card stud with deuces wild.”
“Geez, I hate that game.”
So now you know how scientific methodology was first applied to county planning in Queen Anne’s. The formula has since become known to planners all over the world as Queen Anne’s Human Waste Theory, which somehow seems even more appropriate now in light of recent events.
Planning Ahea… Part III.
Dear Sue Ann Hyer-Morgan, County Planner:
Thank you for your response to a previous column in last week’s Letters To The Editor.
You’ll be relieved to know that you have little to worry about. Readers of this column rarely ever confuse them with editorials. Although in the author’s deluded mind he would be flattered to think that he was being taken seriously, in reality his columns are nothing more or less than satire.
See, the fellow who writes most of these columns is Bad Bill, who has been sent to his room while I, Good Bill, am writing this column. It is not the first time I’ve had to apologize for his politically incorrect behavior. But I do see some good coming from this.
I applaud your generous offer to open lines of communications between your department and county taxpayers, especially those on Kent Island who are eager to know how your department arrives at its planning decisions.
You were correct in observing that Bad Bill “appears to be utterly uninformed on some of the most basic facts and issues regarding the planning process, growth management and transportation planning.”
In fact, even I, Good Bill, am embarrassed to admit that I share his lack of knowledge of the inner workings of your department. So perhaps you’d be kind enough to answer a few questions.
You wrote that you were disappointed that Bad Bill “…was unaware that an additional overpass on Route 50 has been contemplated in State Highway Administration planning documents for the last 20 years.”
Q. During their 20 years of contemplation, has the SHA ever contemplated creating a budget for this overpass?
Q. Where on the island has the SHA contemplated locating this overpass?
Q. When do they contemplate building it?
Q. How would this overpass solve the east-west traffic problems on Route 18 between Castle Marina Road and Route 8, or alleviate the inevitable spillover onto Route 18 during backups on Route 50 during the scheduled 3-5 years of resurfacing of the west-bound span of the Bay Bridge?
You seem shocked that Bad Bill would express his “…general disapproval of development which is proposed in areas where development already exists.”
Q. Are you saying that there is no such thing as too much development in areas where development already exists?
You stated that Bad Bill apparently doesn’t understand that an objective of the County’s growth management program is “…to protect the rural character of the County through preservation of the natural environment.”
Q. Is there no “natural environment” on the land north of Route 50 bordered by the Chester River, Cox, Macum and Piney Creeks?
You wrote, “To accomplish these goals, growth is directed to areas where infrastructure such as public sewer and public water is readily available.”
Q. Are you saying that the sewer and water capacity that is currently “readily available” has the capacity to handle the 1500, 700 and 300 residential unit developments your growth plan has recommended?
Q. Or are you really saying that the capacity to handle this additional growth will be ”readily available” after new water and sewage facilities are built?
Q. If new facilities are built with taypayer money, will priority be given to long time residents of Kent Island living south along Route 18 where failing septic systems have the potential to create a serious public health problem for the homeowners and their families?
You expressed your disappointment that, “…a member of the press fails to appreciate the basic relationship between directed growth and preservation of agricultural lands.”
Q. On whose side does the county stand when this “basic relationship“ is in conflict between the rights of current residents to a reasonable quality of life, versus the preservation of agricultural lands?
I have three final questions that I hope you won’t find too trivial.
Q. Historically, what has happened to the resale values of the pre-built homes in previous adult communities built by New Jersey developer K. Hovanian Companies?
Q. Who owns the Acme Water Company, and what is its relationship to K. Hovanian Companies?
Q. Have you anticipated how you might prevent the long rows of 1500 pre-built homes on 40-foot lots from having a “trailer park” look visible from Route 50?
Bad Bill’s Big Beef.
For a guy who likes to think of himself as a responsible journalist, Good Bill was guilty of grossly misleading you last week when he said Bad Bill was sent to his room.
The truth is, he and a few of his holier-than-thou friends, put a gag in my mouth, wrapped me in duct tape and carried me bodily to my room just before my column deadline.
But the week off gave me time to think about the irrevocable damage that is in danger of being imposed on Kent Island in the name of “progress.” And while I wouldn’t go so far, as Good Bill did, to apologize to county planners for my “loathsome behavior,” I have come to the conclusion that perhaps my outrage over their proposals (especially Four Seasons) has been too narrowly focused. Just as important as what’s happening is what isn’t happening.
We don’t factor “people” into the planning formula. Contrary to what you have heard from the County Planning Department, planning was never supposed to be just about sewage treatment plants and traffic circles. Call me dense, but I always thought that ultimately it was supposed to be about people, about looking after our best interests.
We don’t have open dialogue. The planning department holds public meetings, but I’ve never felt their heart was in it, or that it was for the purpose of getting the public’s input. They seldom use layman’s language or explain in simple terms what the implications of this or that project will have on those in attendance. Often they come with “consultants” paid by the developers armed with visual aids who are well rehearsed to defend objections they’ve anticipated in advance. They are fond of saying that the public was informed about this or that citing a meeting held months, or even years ago, on a project that bears little resemblance to the updated plans. If you are impressed when a developer announces that they have considered changes because of what they heard in a public meeting, you probably don’t understand their real agenda. If this is “open and honest dialogue,” I have to think seriously about updating my Funk & Wagnall.
We don’t have vision. No one has stepped forward with a vision for the county to serve as a blueprint for planning our future. If we had vision would we be planning a large high-density adult development in an area that is minutes from the bridge (they don’t commute), close to two elementary schools, a middle school, high school and large children’s recreational park (they are empty nesters), with predictable traffic problems (they don’t need them either)?
We don’t have an appreciation of Queen Anne’s true value. Spread out a map and describe Queen Anne’s County to anyone in the economic development business and you’ll see their eyes widen and hear their brain mentally ticking off the incredible positives. I know this to be true because I’ve done it.
We are a bridge span away from the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan market (behind only New York, Chicago and Los Angeles). We are less than fifty miles from the nation’s capitol, five major league sports franchises, three international airports, and a long list of world-renowned cultural, medical and educational institutions.
Add to this our extraordinary quality-of life including a rural environment with hundreds of miles of bay, river, creek and cove shoreline, an abundance of wildlife, good schools in a county populated by decent people who put an emphasis on family living. These are all qualities that are prized by environmentally clean high-tech companies to help them recruit and retain highly skilled employees.
We have a valuable asset in Chesapeake College, with a strong computer sciences program already in place that could easily be expanded to provide an abundant computer-literate local work force.
With all of these assets, smartly marketed, we are more than capable of controlling our own destiny and attracting businesses and people who will fully appreciate what this county has to offer, and lend their voices to ours in helping preserve those values we hold so dear.
In short, this county does not have to grovel at the feet of opportunistic, out-of-state residential developers.
And we certainly don’t have to create a legacy of divisiveness in the county, forcing Kent Islanders to make county planning their pivotal issue in the next county elections.
We’re better than that. Much better.
I was going to give it a rest but the positioning of stories and their headlines on the front page of last week’s Bay Times were too compelling to pass up.
And the beat goes on.
On the front page of last week’s Bay Times the headline “Rapist at large” ran over a story sandwiched between articles headlined: “4 Seasons promises funds for new fire station.” and “Wal-Mart pays $4.87 M for KI site.” Sometimes you find irony in places where you least expect it.
Let’s take the 4 Seasons story first. I wasn’t invited to the meeting where this idea was thrown on the table, of course. But I envision it going something like this:
“We’re getting some heat from the community. It’s nothing to sweat, but I’ve got an idea. We’ll promise to pay for a new fire station. We’ll call the press, get the local fire chief there and make a big presentation. This way we’ll be able to characterize people who are against Four Seasons as people who are against building a new firehouse.”
“Beautiful! But won’t that cost a lot of money?”
“Not a dime. Four Seasons homeowners will pay for it and we’ll be the heroes.”
If you doubt this little scenario, do the math.
New Jersey builder K. Hovnanian pledged $438,750 to the fire department to be paid out over five years. They also said that they would assess future Four Seasons’ homeowners $7 a month. 1,049 proposed homes x $7 per unit per month x 5 years = $440,580. If you think it’s coincidence that the two numbers are almost identical, I’ve got a drawbridge in Kent Narrows I’d like to sell you. Hovnanian didn’t get to be a billion dollar corporation for their altruism and community spirit.
As for Wal-Mart, I think the implications are chillingly clear. They tried to slide into Queen Anne’s on the coattails of the Petrie, Dierman, Kughn Ltd. Kent Island Commons development proposal. As you know the PDK plan met with considerable resistance. So Wal-Mart dipped into petty cash and bought the property for themselves.
Why do you suppose they did that? I have a feeling we’re going to find out real soon. Like K. Hovnanian, Wal-Mart also didn’t get to be a $208 billion dollar corporation for their altruism and community spirit.
If you are watching the horror show unfolding on Kent Island from the relatively safe vantage point of Grasonville, Queenstown, Centreville or the upper county, you are probably thinking, “Thank God that’s not me!”
But I also know for a fact that many of you have friends and family on Kent Island and are sympathetic to their plight. Your loyalty will be severely tested over the next few years. Be wary of billionaires who would divide the county into separate camps for personal gain. At some point we may have to decide what price we are willing to put on our dignity and self-respect.
That point is closer than you think. A lot closer.
Not in the name of Smart Growth.
I have more thoughts about county planner Sue Ann Hyer-Morgan’s response in the Bay Times.
First, I applaud her for responding, and don’t want to discourage her from doing so in the future. That is more information than most of us have seen from the county planning department on real issues in a decade. We need this kind of communication.
On the other hand, the questions she responded to were based on input I have been getting from Kent Islanders whose concerns over what is happening are very real, and not to be taken lightly. So her answers (excluding the personal digs, that were pretty amusing) should not be taken lightly either, nor should they go unchallenged if they are in any way flawed.
Without getting into great detail, I’ll just make a few general observations.
I am a big advocate of the Maryland Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation program as passed by the General Assembly in 1997. I just don’t agree with Hyer-Morgan that the Four Seasons development can be justified in the name of Smart Growth.
This high-intensity development is in direct conflict with the first stated goal of the Smart Growth program - to save our most valuable remaining natural resources before they are forever lost.
It is obvious, however, that in the context of the Smart Growth program Hyer-Morgan doesn’t place a high value on Kent Island’s natural resources. There’s a reason for this.
The Smart Growth program was conceived to reduce sprawl in rural areas like Baltimore County where the emphasis on natural resources focuses almost exclusively on agricultural land. If there is a flaw in the program, this is it. There is little in the language of the program to differentiate a county like Queen Anne’s that has a culture and heritage deeply rooted not just in agriculture, but also, in a very important way, in our location on the Chesapeake Bay, Eastern Bay, Chester and Wye Rivers and countless creeks and coves.
If you are a planner with no sense of this tradition, no appreciation for our water habitat, and go strictly by the Smart Growth book, I can understand how you might not equate Kent Island with our most valuable remaining natural resources. There seems to be a “If it ain’t agricultural, it don’t count.” mindset in the planning office.
I have never said that we should have no growth. Growth is a given. I have said that growth management should acknowledge our county’s tradition, and be sensitive to our valuable natural resources, especially our water habitat, and that the land should be zoned for larger lots and provide for more open space. Four Seasons does none of this. It is wall-to-wall 40-foot lots built right up to the required buffers sparing nothing in its path.
Hyer-Morgan tells us, more than once, that the zoning ordinances establishing the density levels of the area in question were based on the recommendations of citizens advisory committees and the 1997 and 1998 Chester and Stevensville community plans. And that this process “involved significant public input which at all points was open to the public.”
The small number of people actually involved in this process dispute this. They tell us that they expressed their concerns then with a large adult community and the density and traffic problems that would result. And they tell us that they were presented with plans for the area that bear little resemblance to what was actually approved.
Who do you believe? Bottom line: the final decision on zoning was made by the planning Department and Planning and Zoning Commission. To have them pointing fingers at the public at this stage of the game is more than reprehensible. It is downright insulting.
James Howard Kunstler talks
about “the loss of unique sense of place” in his book about the destructive
environmental impact of poorly planned development. “We must
In her response, Hyer-Morgan agrees that there is natural environment in the area where the Four Seasons development is proposed, but quickly adds, “What’s important to note is that said natural environment happens to be in close proximity to the most intensely developed built environment in all of Queen Anne’s County.”
Which is precisely why people are saying; “Enough already!”
Falling off the turnip truck.
I have this nagging feeling
that we are being talked down to by people who don’t even try to hide the
fact that they think we’re little more than a bunch of dim-witted rubes.
“K. Hovnanian’s proposed development will generate a tax surplus over a 20 year period of: $88.3 Million.” This statement was followed by an asterisk *Source Fiscal impact analysis by Robert Charles Lesser & Co.
Would it really surprise you to learn that Robert Charles Lesser & Co. is a national consulting firm that provides strategic planning and marketing strategy for many of the nations largest real estate developers, including K. Hovnanian?
Wouldn’t you like to know what formula they used to come up with this figure? To project a tax surplus for a given development you would have to know the amount of tax dollars to be collected over that period, and the infrastructure costs to be borne by the county directly attributed to that development, factoring in inflation, over the next 20 years!
To presume to make a 20-year projection (historical precedent in our fast moving economy is a totally unreliable benchmark) has no basis in statistical reality in the 21st century. To present these figures as engraved in stone is ludicrous. To use as a source of the projection a firm that is on your payroll and assume that we’ll buy it goes beyond arrogance. It is downright insulting!
And then there’s Hovnanian’s assertion that “…we’ve worked closely with local residents, elected officials and adjoining communities.” I don’t know how closely Hovnanian has worked with elected officials (though I’d sure like to know), but working closely with local residents? Would they have us believe that the projects deleted from their original plans weren’t throw-aways, bargaining chips that developers routinely create for that purpose? Get real!
I won’t even honor their contention that they are “…protecting the environmen of Kent Island”. This is so preposterous that words fail me.
It’s interesting to note that Hovnanian has been silent on the traffic issue. Apparently, even the clever folks at Robert Charles Lesser & Co failed to find words that would explain how creating a population base the size of Centreville on tiny slip of land, bounded by water and Route 50, would not create traffic problems of unfathomable proportions.
Also, for those you connected to the internet, you might want to check out Hovnanian’s website (www.khov.com) and the web page that proclaims: “Four Seasons at Kent Island. Magnificent Waterfront Community on Maryland's Eastern Shore Opening Mid 2001!”
See, a lot of us have been under the impression that Four Season’s is still going through the approval process.
But what do we know?
Bill Evans can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2000,2001 Bill
Evans. Used By Permission. All Rights Reserved.