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Subject: "It was AWFUL".... (Part One)

 Dear KIDL Friends.

Just FYI I am sending you what I sent to Dirck yesterday as the first part of my "report" to the TPA on the 2-27-01 Growth Allocation Hearing.   Please let me know your thoughts and whether I was wrong or inaccurate about anything.  We're working on this....  Meanwhile, congratulations on a job well done.  Win or lose, you couldn't have done any better.

Best,

Rebecca

 ----- Original Message -----

 
 Subject: It was AWFUL.....


 Hi Dirck,

Well, at least the sun came out this morning!  AND it is my birthday!!  Other than that, the news is dismal.... the Kent Island situation is worse than you can imagine and due to get a LOT worse still.

I hardly know where to begin.... the meeting began at 6 p.m. and ended at approx. 11 p.m.   The battle began as soon as one entered the building.... there were signs on the doors proclaiming "vote no" etc. and upon entering the huge lobby leading to the auditorium/theatre one was confronted with LOTS of posters, people handing out stuff, easels with newspaper articles and statements and aerial photos and architects renderings etc. etc.  and I haven't even mentioned the row upon row of picnic tables with handouts, brochures, sign-up sheets, piles of stickers, buttons and the KIDL bright pink "flash cards" emblazoned with the simple message VOTE NO in huge type.  The Hovnanian people were to the left and they wanted you to wear an immense colorful white and yellow button (really, it was 6 inches across.... ).  I tried to get one, but I was already festooned with "Vote No", "UpAgainsttheWal" and "Critical Areas Protective Association" and the lady asked me what I would do with it.... when I said I wanted it so I could stick pins in it (voodoo style) she recoiled.  The Hovnanian side had the "slick" posters and the even slicker satellite photos in GIANT format.  They have a little "newspaper" which is now in its fourth edition and has lots of pretty pictures showing how much fun (eating shishkabob, watching babes in the pool) it will be to be an "Active Adult" at their new showplace retirement home.  Sex sells I hear.

It's impressive that it was a madhouse in the lobby even though I didn't get there until almost 6 p.m. and the meeting was already getting underway.  Further along, in the entranceway to the "theatre", between two sets of double doors, there was another picnic table with an alert volunteer monitoring sheet after sheet of names of people who had signed up and were still signing up to speak.  I asked and learned that I would be unable to sign up as "you" to read your letter even though you represent hundreds of people.  Later it turned out that a developer or two did just that... they had another person read their letter (comments were made about this that they were "afraid" to show up).  But this was just the beginning of the realization that this was a very one-sided affair..... with everything procedurally  tilted in favor of the developers.

The KIHS auditorioum/theater is a HUGE place... very very posh.  Not like anything you or I ever saw in our trips through high school or even college I bet.  It apparently seats 600 people and there were people standing in rows along the sides and along the back.  I went fairly far forward, looking for a stray empty seat and/or Gene, and suddenly I heard my name called and, voila, there was a seat next to Wayne Humphries, husband of "T" who once came down to Easton and met with me to go see the moratorium documents in Tom Hamilton's office.

Sitting next to Wayne was very helpful since he knew who everyone was and in some cases, esp. when the speaker sort of pretended to just be Joe Citizen in favor of the project, he was able to tell me that they were in fact a developer whose adjacent project (in one case for an additional 750 houses) depended on Four Seasons getting their growth allocation.

The stage had a HUGE long table with a fancy white satin cloth.... and the three commissioners on the other side.  Overhead was the biggest projection screen I had ever seen and to the left was another projection screen which was the second largest.  There were tables down at the front where the county lawyer and some others were writing down stuff and, when the public comments began, "accepted evidence".  [Skipping ahead a bit, the best of the "evidence" was a graduated cylinder full of muddy water and a couple of plastic bags containing several pounds of green slime which were "introduced" by Nick Carter.  He is a true expert and helped immensely when he spoke against the Benson development planned for the Dolvin Farm next to the Mill Creek Sanctuary.]

Anyhow, the meeting began with Commissioner O'Donnell explaining the "rules".... the developer was to be the first speaker and was allowed an hour.  He muttered a bit about the meeting being rather "legal" in style and that evidence etc. could be presented to be "entered into the record" (probably not his exact words, but when the county attorney "accepts" things, what else could it mean?).  Do you think they think they are headed to court or something??

The County Commissioners had their own handouts... one was a chronological list of all the various permissions etc. that they had already doled out to the developer.  The public would be next to speak and would be allowed 3 minutes each with no one being allowed to give their time to another......

Here is a synopsis of what the Queen Anne's County handouts were (all four were stapled together):
 

  1. Planning Commission review/recommendation on Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreement
  2. County Commissioners hold Developer's Rights and Responsibilities Agreement (DRRA) Public Hearing
  3. County Commissioners approve Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreement and grand growth allocation
  4. Original submittal for preliminary plan
  5. Staff Technical Advisory Committee review of preliminary plan
  6. Planning Commission review/approval of preliminary plan
  7. Original submittal of final plan
  8. Staff Technical Advisory committee review of final plan
  9. Planning Commission review/approval of final plan


[Makes it sound rather like it's a done deal the way they say "review/approval of final plan" etc....]
 

  1. The applicant must enter into a legally binding Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreement with the County.  The Planning Commission must find the Agreement
          a. to be consistent with the comprehensive plan as well as the Stevensville and Chester Growth Area Plans and         b. provides for the recapture of growth allocation in the event the project does not proceed as provided in the Agreement or in a manner consistent with these conditions or any conditions of site plan or subdivision approval,          c. the County Commissioners must then approve the agreement. etc., etc. for 16 items.  This is an important document and I will get you a copy of it and the other three...
 


"During the concept plan approval the Planning Commission found that the Four Seasons project was consistent with the comprehensive plan for the following reasons:* The property is located in both the Stevensville and Chester growth areas.* The property was rezoned SMPD and CMPD to accommodate higher density development in accordance with the recommendations of the Stevensville and Chester Communtiy Plans.* The SMPD and CMPD zoning designations are inconsistent with the RCA density limitations.* All of the Critical Area lands on the properties are pre-mapped for growth allocation.* The county previously awarded 79.55 acres of growth allocation to the Bittorf, Tanner and Bell properties as part of the counties initial Critical Area program and mapping (bad spelling theirs...).* The property can easily be connected into the existing public water and sewer system.

[Is this a circular bunch of reasoning or what???  We marked it for growth so now it's ok to grow it....]

Well, where was I .... the Developer's presentation:

1)  Some guy who was the V.P. for K. Hovnanian Enterprises said who would be speaking and that Stevens would be in charge of the presentation from here on.

2)  Stevens... the usual except for a few interesting "facts"... he said (I think I got this correctly) that only 116 acres of growth allocation had been awarded to date (for K.I.?  for Q.A's.?) and then, incredibly in my mind, he actually said that Section 14 --176.3 of the County Code explains how they (the commissioners apparently) "can put restrictions on the growth allocation process". I'm sure that's what he said....  geez, what a possible gold mine.  I wonder if he's right and I wonder what it means for Q.A's. and I wonder if we have such a thing in our County Code and I wonder if we should be working on this angle.... either getting such a clause or implementing it if we already have one.  [And by the way, let's not forget that there's a part of Stevens which wants to be a "scholar".... in the old days he apparently wrote a lot of thoughtful stuff about development from both sides of the fence.]

Stevens said that the reason the "revised" plans weren't now before the Commissioners was essentially that there could well be more revisions and that when all that was worked out (based on commissioner comments?) then the "real" revised plan would go from the commissioners back to the planning commission and then (I think I heard him say this) back to the Critical Area Commission and etc. over again.

Stevens next point was about the age restriction and how they would enforce it... he said at least one of the "owners" would have to be 55 or over and that no one could live there who was under 19.  With regard to how to make it stay that way, he mentined the "association" and the covenants and restrictions and stuff in deeds that homeowners would have to agree to.  He further said that the "county could enter into a contract with the developer" about it.  [It's worth noting that I have always found it useful to see where lawyers put their first and second smoke screens and use the most words up front to make something look good -----  that's almost always exactly where they are the weakest and the extra words just make a big obvious pile of fluff over their little white lies.  Sort of like what cats do in kitty litter....  Anyhow, a later speaker made the very good point that these age restrictions are being challenged all over the place as being discriminatory.  And for example what if someone young inherits an age-restricted home and can't use it and wants to use it.  Or has trouble selling it etc.  The speaker was certain this was a major weak place and the K.I. would end up with kids in the school system yet.]

3.  Mike Whitehill (who although he lists off his credentials so fast you can't hear them and who has been criticized in other meetings as putting himself forward as an engineer, well anyhow, I listened as hard as I could and I am sure I heard him say "property line surveyor" as his only "credential" besides being stuff like project manager, office manager, vice president etc. etc.  Anyhow, here are some "facts" that I wrote down from what he said.   The total acreage is 562 and includes several parcels; 517 acres are in the critical area and approx. 45 acres are not in the critical area; 392 acres are "Stevensville" and 162 acres are "Chester".  He said the "Chester" portion was zoned for 6 homes per acre.  I didn't catch what he said about the Stevensville portion, but he clearly stated that a total of 2,341 (yes, that's two thousand three hundred and forty-one....) would be allowed under current zoning.  He then talked about where on the property there are 300 foot, 150 foot and 100 foot buffers.

4. Sam Melillo - a landscape architect.  He said that the original Concept Plan which was submitted to the commissioners had been changed (from one mess of spaghetti on a map to another mess of spaghetti on a map) because of the Makum Creek and the tidal pond buffer increases.  He said (rather defensively I thought) that he "likes" curvilinear roads (this whole project is a monument to curvilinear roads) and that they were like that "on purpose".  His next contribution to the general pool of knowledge was to say that there were not going to be "any fences" anywhere in the project.  This is in order to make the setting more "park-like".  Great.... how would you like to have a 40 foot wide property with a 30 foot wide house and no fences.... think of all the little fluffy dogs running amuck.  And the ladies running around walking them (oh, and by the way, no animal "droppings" will be allowed; in according to their newspaper and in the interest of "saving the environment" they must be "picked up and disposed of"....!!).

Poor Sam drew some guffaws when he pointed to the area where he had first planned an RV parking lot and proudly said it was now a community Victory Garden.  One was hardly done choking with laughter about the RV parking lot when one heard the word Victory Garden.  If only this wasn't for real it would be hilarious.

5. Mike Whitehill - he came back to say how he had met with the adjacent developments (Bayside and Queens Landing) to talk about where the entrance to Four Seasons should be....  It got changed and he talked a lot about berms and boulevards.... the amazing part is that there is just this one road.  And no other way in or out.

Then he talked about the (sewer system) "vacuum collectors" and showed on a map how Four Seasons is going to bypass all of the existing stuff and trench all the way straight to the sewage treatment plant for a direct feed (now there's a thought....) for Four Seasons.

Then he talked about the water system and the big tower they will put up etc. and which aquifer they will use.  He had a nice cross sectional drawing of the various aquifers and dismissed the top on (the Aquia which we in Talbot use) as being more or less "condemned" because of the salt water intrusion.  [This was part of my argument the letter I submitted to the Critical Area Commission back when they had their hearing; the Aquia is now in "hydrologic communication" with Chesapeake Bay salt water, probably because so much water has been pumped out of it that the pressures are greater in the bay than the aquifer and so the salt water moves in.... I learned this in a talk with the MDE.  Anyhow, Queen Anne's residents aren't allowed to tap into it any more -- heaven only knows what is being done for the people who are getting the salt water.]   The next aquifer down is the Magothy and it has a lot of iron in it.  The next after that is the Upper Patapsco and they are skipping all 1,000 feet of that.  They are going to the Lower Patapsco for cleaner water.  [N.B. - the Easton Comprehensive Plan says Easton is getting half of its water these days from a single well at approx. 1,200 feet.... since the aquifers slope and are deeper here than there, it's hard to say which it is.  We should check.]

6.  Mike Klebasko - Biologist and "wetland scientist" - said the bits of wooded areas on the site are either a) to small for FIDS (forest interior dwelling species of birds) or b) they are "too immature" (this in the one site that is actually more than 50 acres).  Since these types of birds need a stand of 50 acres or more, it is pretty easy for developers to say, well, we won't keep these trees because there aren't enough of them for these birds to be there.... rather than say, gosh we can add a few acres and maybe they will come.....  and with regard to the large lot they are apparently saying gee, we might as well cut down the immature trees (and build houses) rather than wait for them to mature.

7.  Kenneth Schmid - traffic impact guy.  Says everything is rosy.... they are depending on (you guessed it) a roundabout.  He measured the impacts (theoretical of course) at 11 intersections and had a map where 5 of them were one color and 6 were another color.  You guessed it, the five "will need capacity improvement".  He kept right on talking because he wanted to get to the "really good" part about the roundabout.... He had the nerve to present the data like this.... that, now that the rental apartments and commercial components had been removed from the plan, the AM traffic would be 49% reduced, the PM traffic would be 71% reduced and the Saturday traffic would be 60% reduced.  But of course "reduced from what" is the BIG QUESTION.  What a fascinating way to present data.  Gosh, we took part of our project off the table and got big improvements.  Well, duh.   I did write down that on Saturdays which he considered "the highest" time of usage, the Rt. 18 and Castle Marina Road roundabout would be at "39% capacity".  Geez, do you suppose they're going to have a roundabout that's even bigger than the one they have in store for us on the Bypass??  I guess if you build a 6 or 8 lane roundabout you can always say that you are at some tiny percent of the "capacity".....   Isn't math fun??

8.  Leonard Bogorad - Senior VP of Robert Charles Leser & Co. (supposedly the "largest" economic impact study company) - economic consultant.  Saving the "best for last" this guy said that the Four Seasons would bring "$88.2 million" to the community.... you had to listen hard to hear him say the rest of it.... "over 20 years".  Do the math... big whoop.  That comes to $4.41 million per year.  That's less than what my neighbor is selling his one house for.  And give me a break, NO ONE knows what will be going on in the economy in 20 years.  (the Dow is down 200 more points as I write this.... who'd thunk that a year or two ago?).  You've gotta figure they massaged these numbers as best they could and still this is the best they could come up with.  We should just write them a check and say forget about the development.....

But his presentation was sort of interesting... he said he did two types of analysis, "fiscal impact" (cost to the community) and "economic impact" (expenditures in the community).  He said that the "first plan" would have had a net of $54.6 million coming to the community over 20 years and that the "revised plan" (no rental apartments or commercial component) would have a net of $88.2 million.  That was arrived at from his prediction of $114 million in "income" to the community minus $25.8 million in "cost" to the community.  All over 20 years.  Geez.  That 20 years bit kills me. Then he said "why is Four Season's impact so positive?"... 1) high property value, 2) low county cost, 3) no school children.  He said that other "conventional development" would have the opposite of all three, namely lower property value, higher county costs and school children.  He said 72% of the cost to the community in a "conventional development" is "school children costs".  [this is useful for us to use... their literature also says it... that development COSTS the community.]  He said they would bring 100 full time jobs to the county.

The public comment began at this point and I think I will continue this letter at another time..... the horses are looking at me over the fence and the sun is sinking low....

The public comment was as the newspaper article described it.... busloads of people from Howard County and K.I. had been wined and dined in New Jersey, apparently in return for them speaking at the meeting about the vacation atmosphere of Four Seasons and how they couldn't wait to move in.  Those who spoke against the project and who tried to cram in facts in only 180 seconds had a hard row to hoe.  One local guy said it best... "there's no way I can tell you how much my life here means to me in 3 minutes".   In short, the general idea that this was a discussion about a particular ordinance or set of facts about the bay condition or critical area condition as a result of this development was out the window....

I did submit your letter and the KIDL was most grateful for our support.  I also submitted a letter of my own mentioning three things as an impact on Talbot (the hospital system, the Midshore Regional Landfill and the "demise" of crab picking houses due to the increased and year-round demand for crab meat which guarantees that crab meat is imported and that the local fisheries are overfished.  Imported crabmeat is picked overseas.)

The KIDL has been doing an unbelievable job of putting out the word and preparing brochures etc. etc. etc.  In addition to their good press releases they have been getting themselves interviewed on the radio also.  They are having another "open house" this coming Saturday at the library up there with a speaker and everything.  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gives them tons of very good literature to hand out (along with providing speakers).

Oh, by the way, the big news is that the record is still open for written comments until March 9th.  Let's do the best we can to overwhelm them with some factual stuff.....

More later,

Rebecca

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