Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fredercik Commissioners Propose Home Building Moratorium

Lost in all the hubub of the Muslim center in Walkkersville, was this little gem:
Some housing construction in unincorporated areas would be stopped for up to two years while the County Commissioners revise the comprehensive plan, the panel said Tuesday.

The moratorium, approved 4-0, would not stop all new housing construction. It would allow commercial and industrial construction to continued.

Developers would be permitted to build in subdivisions under construction. Some 3,000 houses would be able to be built under the moratorium.

Roads and schools have become crowded, the commissioners said, and land use policies are not protecting the county's quality of life.
Now the moratorium is not a complete ban on construction and yes, the county does have some growth related issues, i.e. roads, traffic, crowded school, etc. But generally, this is not a smart step.

In the past moratoriums on building were often related to either water restrictions (of which there are none now) or infrastructure concerns, i.e. the sewer or water system had to be brought up to speed before the construction could continue. Those moratoria were generally short-lived, between three and six months. But a two year ban on over 50 percent of the county land (incorporated towns are exempt, but their geographic reach is also limited)is unprecedented and unnecessary.

The rationale offered at Tuesday's press conference by Frederick County Commission Jan Gardner is that
the halt to home building is necessary to allow them time to update a 1998 document outlining the future of housing growth in the county. The board said they also need time to make changes to the county's growth-control policy. The county's adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) requires developers to ensure that roads, water, sewer and schools are adequate to meet the needs of new residents before building.

Commissioners want to add stipulations to that ordinance to include adequate fire and rescue services.
I will admit that changes to the growth ordinance (itself probably unnecessarily complex) might be needed, but a two year ban is too long. The County Planning Board will meet next month and the County Commission will meet on the issue shortly thereafter.

Here is what teh commissioners are failing to see. First, if you restrict the home building in Frederick County, but allow commerical building, you will bring jobs to the county, but not residents. Those workers filling the new jobs will live somewhere else, i.e. West Virginia or Pennsylvania. They won't live in Montgomery county for the most part because Frederick salaries can't keep up with the cost of living in the People's Republic of Montgomery County. What does that mean--oh yeah--more traffic on the main roads, more parking problems, etc.

Second, the ban on construction will artificially inflate housing prices, but drive home sellers to live elsewhere. Sure, if I want to sell my house, this is a good move for me, but if I want to buy a house in Frederick County, it is not good news for me. For those people moving out of the county, they will do well when the housing prices bounce up, but when the moratorium is lifted and the housing construction resumes, the prices, already artifically high, will drop. That can be good news or bad news depending upon your situation.

What bothers me most about this moratorium is slow response. The most recent comprehensive plan for the county's development was adopted in 1998. Since that time, the county has become one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Fine, but that explosion in growth started in 2000, why did the Commissioners wait 8 more years to start addressing the matter? Why did they not start in say 2002 or 2003 and come up with a better plan then without the need for a moratorium? The fact of the matter is that their delay is our pain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. My husband and I recently moved to Frederick (last year)from PA. We relocated because I started a new job here. My employer had no ability to respond to my "stickershock" when we moved south. We were really counting on the downturn of the market to make housing affordable for our two income family. It's a little ridiculous that we can afford a home almost anywhere in the country except for Frederick and the surrounding area. If the home prices begin another rise, we will simply have to attempt to wait it out two years(too long). My husband's a pilot; he can live anywhere. So, meanwhile, I'll begin a new job search.