Thursday, June 13, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest VOL. 3, NO. 6 | JUNE 7, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest

Please join our monthly email list by clicking here.
Learn more about CRG at the bottom of this newsletter.

For quick access, click on a title here and jump to that article, below:
VPO Special Tax Rate Ordinance
County Property Tax Increase for SCHOOLS!
City Charter Review Update
City Westside
City Workshop: More Growth & Affordable Housing
City: Major Development Update
East Street Corridor, Form Based Code, & Community Character
City Planning Commission — Absence Policies
Data Center Developments
Solar Farms
CRG is Looking for Volunteers
Upcoming Meetings & Events

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VPO Special Tax Rate Ordinance
By a majority vote at its May 16th public meeting, the Mayor and BOA imposed and levied taxes on all habitually vacant properties pursuant to Section 8-14 of the City Code. This tax is the "enforcement hammer" of the 100% resident-driven Vacant Property Ordinance approved unanimously by the BOA in December 2020. It is the third step in the 4-step process of addressing the scourge of long-term vacant properties in the City.

Steps 1 and 2 required said properties to first be registered and then during the second year be inspected for safety concerns. Moreover, it is important to note the City will have the option to continue to raise taxes up to 5 times the normal rate or institute step 4, which would take the property into receivership.

CRG would like to thank the NAC 11 volunteers who worked diligently for over 2 years to craft this legislation. If properly pursued by the City, the legislation will provide a disincentive to recalcitrant landlords who have been letting properties sit idle for well over 20 years to the detriment of the residents and businesses alike.

The bottom line? The City can no longer continually push this problem down the road. Residents have provided the City the tools to finally do something about this significant detriment to Frederick. Reluctance to step up would be inexcusable after all the effort residents have put into this process. We have waited long enough!


County Property Tax Increase for SCHOOLS!
The County Council just adopted a 4.7% increase in property taxes to be used solely for school construction. CRG applauds this increase and the County Executive for this bold decision as many schools are currently at or near capacity and, over the next few years, many will be significantly over the state-mandated capacity of 120%.

Additionally, the County’s 2024 surplus of $52 million was earmarked for schools, a major unidentified sum that has severely reduced the funding shortfall for the coming year. Let’s keep school construction, increasing numbers of seats, and funding for education as top priorities for this and future administrations!


City Charter Review Update
CRG held the first public meeting on the proposed Charter Review Committee over a year ago. The Committee, comprised of dedicated and respected local residents, worked diligently for 11 months on a comprehensive and definitive list of recommendations presented to the Board of Aldermen (BOA) on December 1, 2023. The BOA has held biweekly review sessions since mid-February and several updates have been reported by the FNP and in our CRG newsletters.

It is concerning that the best timing residents can expect the BOA to vote on the deeply vetted, well documented recommendations is "sometime in the fall”. CRG urges the Mayor and City staff to prioritize more rapid progress and provide the legislative branch with everything needed to guarantee inclusion of recommended Charter revisions on the agenda for a mid-September hearing, at the latest. The public and the volunteer committee members deserve a prompt resolution. A final point: the seemingly uncertain discussion processes and slow walk to decision-making noted in the Frederick News Post were among the key issues the Charter Review Committee recommendations were designed to address. Let’s move forward!


City Westside
At a May 15th specially scheduled Workshop to allow for more public participation, the City reviewed a presentation by the County on the proposed library for the Westside as part of their feasibility study for the Hillcrest Park site. The County has determined that the site is appropriate including multiple options for a 15,000 sq. ft. facility which features a modern interactive library with particular attention to accessibility, parking, and the surrounding neighborhood.

Having this long overdue and critically needed library in a location within walking distance of those who will utilize its amenities was paramount to all as was protecting the privacy and character of the established community. In that regard, plans focused on adding trees, providing green space, and positioning the building in the least intrusive way possible.

CRG respects the concerns of all involved regarding this change to a park they have long enjoyed. At the same time, we applaud the County for doing their best to mitigate those concerns and provide a first class, modern public library that will provide long and substantial benefits for many local residents. We encourage the City to act quickly and approve the needed land transfer to the County plus the required rezoning to ensure the project moves forward without delay.


City Workshop: More Growth & Affordable Housing
At its May 13th workshop, the Planning Commission discussed multiple developments including:

  • An odd-shaped lot for development (Wormans Mill Court Apts.) of 315 residential units across Rte. 26 from Clemson Corner, all affordable housing. Unfortunately, the developer is seeking rezoning of the property, not permitted under the current Land Management Code. CRG hopes some compromise can be worked out to allow the construction of the badly needed housing.
  • A 112-unit apartment project on Hayward Road. It does not include affordable housing units but would require (under the recently revised Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit [MPDU] ordinance) that the developer pay fees in-lieu (FIL) >$400,000 for the City’s MPDU reserve, a substantial increase for the City’s pool for future affordable housing construction.
  • And third, a discussion of the Final Plat for a 274-unit development off Rocky Springs Road. The developer will need to address MPDUs (34 units) in the future. School capacity concerns were not discussed.
CRG continues to plead for housing for our lower income residents. Please help by providing e-comments, written opinions, or oral presentations for the next PC meeting.

City: Major Development Update
On May 23rd, the City’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) received comment concerning 2 projects — the B&O Buildings (near the MARC Train station) and the Odd Fellows campus (Banner School site on N. Market).
  • At the B&O site, the developer seeks to build five 4-story modern townhomes behind the 5 previously renovated historic buildings near Carroll Creek. The design depicts townhouses taller than the historic buildings with 2-bay garages and balconies unlike any other residences in that area. Staff and 3 of the 4 commissioners had reservations on height, design, roof lines, and setbacks (a staggered side-by-side design). The developer’s team seemed uninterested in substantial modifications to their design but will return with other/another design in June.
  • HPC members suggested multiple revisions to the design for the Odd Fellows property at 1730 N. Market and the developer appeared amenable to the suggestions. Brick would be a major component of the new buildings rather than the same white sideboard on the adjacent Canterbury Station units, with 2–4 story single family homes, townhomes, and apartments. Other than reducing the mass and length of the 4-story apartment buildings, the developer had listened to previous comment and had adjusted the site’s plans accordingly. CRG offers ‘kudos’ to the developer, City staff, and the HPC for what appears to be a reasonable design for the >215 units that will be built on the historic property!

East Street Corridor, Form Based Code, & Community Character
CRG members recently met with City Planning staff to discuss a number of issues specific to the East Street Corridor including proposed possible road redesigns for the 4th to 8th Street section of East Street, rails-to-trails for bike and pedestrian use, and status of the revised form based code (FBC) prepared by an outside consultant approximately a year ago. Staff indicated that a third version of the FBC is in draft currently with distribution scheduled in the fall for public comment.

What’s uncertain are: 1) consistency with the 2017 East Street Small Area Plan, 2) the roles of residents in developing a checklist of requirements that a developer must meet to concur with the FBC, and 3) how the FBC will be merged with the City’s Land Management Code (LMC). CRG anticipates considerable continuing dialog with Planning staff to better understand and identify specific resident options for direct participation in the future development of the Corridor.

In a related short discussion, CRG emphasized that Community Character — Chapter 6 of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan, and important to how the City is perceived by residents and visitors — should be codified as part of the City’s LMC, thereby requiring Planning staff to include design for any development relative to how the proposed building(s) will complement the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood. Currently there are no such considerations and hence Planning staff only consider whether a building/buildings meet specific local, state, and federal codes independent of architecture.


City Planning Commission — Absence Policies
As the most important City body guiding future development in Frederick, an active and informed Planning Commission must be maintained and guaranteed through member, alternate, and liaison preparation for and participation in each meeting. In recent months, one of the most active and always-prepared members was not reappointed, a major loss to a functioning and admired Commission.

In addition to this loss has been spotty participation by members, the alternate, and the City liaison from the Board of Aldermen, with tardy arrivals, some attending with no familiarity with scheduled project applications, early and unannounced departures, and votes without justification. With the City’s future design in the hands of this group of individuals, absences or tardiness should be a rare occurrence following notification to the chair, as thorough review of all applications must be assured, and open discussions of all applications, applicants, residents, and staff must involve all members, any alternates, and the liaison. CRG urges a recommitment from all three Commission groups to fulfill these requirements; if not possible, resignation should occur or fellow Commissioners should use Section 2.6 of its Rules and Procedures to remove non-active members or alternates while requesting full meeting participation by the City liaison.


Data Center Developments
Quantum Loophole (QL), the owners of the 2100-acre data center campus near Adamstown, continues to violate local and state regulations regarding contamination of local waterways and its floodplains, with STOP WORK orders placed on the company once again. These violations are difficult to understand as QL has repeatedly promised increasing oversight of its contractors conducting the horizontal drilling to bring fiber cable from Northern Virginia to the Eastalco site.

In other news, the Rowan Corporation has purchased 150 acres of the site for 3 data center buildings it will construct and then lease/sell to data center corporations. Rowan staff provided company feedback to interested attendees at a public open house on May 23rd in Adamstown. Staff expressed their commitment to environmentally-responsible construction and operations. As well, the initial QL client, Aligned Corporation, has just indicated they will return to their previously purchased portion of the site to resume center construction, a decision made possible by Governor Moore’s removal of state restrictions on backup diesel generator use (168 diesel generators) for the company’s campus.

In addition to anticipated noise and
CO2 generation from these backup units, residents and organizations are also concerned about identifying the source of continuous power for the centers; water demand and treatment for cooling data center equipment; quantities and quality of stormwater runoff from the huge areas of impervious surface; requirements and funding for remediation of spillage of toxic center materials (e.g., diesel fuel, non-aqueous coolant); corporation responsibilities for County water treatment upgrades and repairing damage to adjacent properties from center-induced flooding from extreme events; and construction of water coolant recycling infrastructure from the site to the Ballenger-McKinney treatment plant. A huge worry is access to power for existing and future residents, businesses, and industries as regional power companies have stated that currently and for several years into the future there is neither enough power nor transmission lines to meet projected demand. Then what? Who gets it, who pays for it, and how is it allocated?

Solar Farms
One May 21st, Councilwoman M.C. Keegan-Ayer led a first reading of solar design criteria for Agricultural Land. A long-anticipated policy has now moved forward and CRG strongly supports resident and industry examination of the proposed legislation as increasing local solar installations enables increased renewable energy production, while simultaneously maintaining agricultural production (e.g., sheep can graze beneath raised solar panels). Solar power is mandatory if we are to reduce emission of greenhouse gases that drive the extreme weather events of our area, i.e., those that jeopardize public health, induce major flooding, cause substantial property damage, promote invasive plant and animal proliferations, induce growth of toxin-producing ‘algae’ in local waterways, and reduce agricultural production. That loud thunder you hear in the background is CRG clapping for this initial important step to reduce the drivers of climate change in our area!

CRG is seeking volunteers!
The CRG team is currently putting together a website, built in Wix, and we're looking for volunteers: 1) to help keep the site up to date (once or twice a week), and 2) to take photos of developments or other issues we're following. If you have experience with Wix or you're interested in taking photos occasionally, please use the button, 'REPLY TO EMAIL AUTHORS' at the bottom of this email. Thank you for considering!

Upcoming Meetings & Events
City HPC Meeting, June 10, 6 PM, City Hall: Review of B&O and Odd Fellows developments
Urban Native Plant Garden Tour, Saturday, June 15 in City of Frederick: see Wild Ones website for registration details (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wild-ones-native-plant-garden-tour-tickets-892135841317)
County PC Meeting, June 18, 7 PM, Winchester Hall: Design Criteria for Commercial Solar

VOL. 3, NO. 6  |  JUNE 7, 2024
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See the CRG blog at: responsiblegrowthfrederick.com


Contributors: P. Gallagher, S. Jakubczyk, R. Robey, M. Rosensweig, K. Sellner, K. Thomassen

CRG is a grassroots coalition of Frederick residents who prioritize responsible growth, expanding infrastructure, and a functional natural environment. We advocate for development that accommodates projected population increases while fostering a strong and diverse community fabric and increasing economic opportunities. Our comprehensive approach emphasizes public safety, traffic mitigation, increasing school capacity, and housing for all members of our community.

Many Frederick residents want to know — but cannot find — information about how to participate in discussions of important local issues. The City and County generally hold meetings from 3–10 p.m., making it impossible for most of us to attend meetings or weigh in on issues of interest. Our mission with this monthly newsletter is to highlight City and County activities so you can learn more and, with your limited time, weigh in on areas of growth and development, City and County policies, and other local activities. Occasionally, opinions or longer stories will be offered by knowledgeable experts/readers. We welcome suggestions for articles focused on specific topics. Contact Kevin Sellner (kgsellner@gmail.com), Marge Rosensweig (marjorierosensweig@gmail.com), or Steve Jakubczyk (jakubczyksteven@gmail.com) for consideration of your issue.
 
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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest VOL. 3, NO. 5 | MAY 8, 2024

 VOL. 3, NO. 5  |  MAY 8, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest

Please join our monthly email list by clicking here.
Learn more about CRG at the bottom of this newsletter.

For quick access, click on a title here and jump to that article, below:

  1. Editorial
  2. City: Worman’s Mill Court Apartments
  3. Mixed Use Development at 69-77 S. Market Street
  4. Lucas Village
  5. City: Westside Regional Workshop
  6. City: East Street Redesign
  7. City: Board of Aldermen & Mayor Workshop: Resident Appointments and Affordable Housing at The Junction and Madison on N. Market
  8. More Luxury Condos Downtown
  9. City: B&O Development, Lot 7
  10. County: Property Tax Increase for School Construction
  11. Hotels, Hotels, Hotels
  12. Ongoing Data Center Concerns
  13. Upcoming Meetings and Events

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CRG is adding an editorial column beginning with this edition of our newsletter. The intention is to expand what is offered to our readers in addition to normal reporting on core issues and related meetings throughout the City and County. Our hope is that you will find these thought provoking and, in some cases, insightful.

EDITORIAL: Steve Jakubczyk
In praise of volunteers — you inspire us and help keep us going
In the midst of partisan politics at every level in both the City and the County — where in-fighting and close-mindedness, along with an apparent disregard for transparency and public opinion — it is difficult sometimes not to give in and walk away. It's especially difficult after spending time going to meeting after meeting, organizing and moderating dozens of non-partisan candidate forums, and constantly engaging with neighbors throughout the community to better understand resident concerns.

To observe that the City constantly hires consultants, but ignores their recommendations and does the same with the commissions and committees they appoint if the results don't reinforce their preconceived positions, is very disheartening.

Hearing that quality individuals are denied jobs in the City, or an opportunity to serve, because they won't rubber stamp staff recommendations, or are loosely associated with civic organizations that occasionally challenge the status quo, is chilling to the soul.

The recent denial of reappointment to the critical and vital City Planning Commission because an individual fought too hard for the residents, instead of for the development community, was especially egregious.

However, I've met some lovely, dedicated people on this journey and that's what keeps me going. These are people I respect and admire, who are doing their best to address the challenges of a growing City for all the right reasons; people who serve without ego, arrogance, or grandstanding — those of you who actively participate in non-profits or through church groups, and those who volunteer to help your neighbors and community out of a desire to create a better Frederick through improving the community at large.

You are the ones that inspire me each and every day — keep it up — we need you!
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City: Worman’s Mill Court Apartments
The 3-building, 315-unit multi-family residential project, proposed by Standard Communities, is either a tremendous addition to the stock of affordable housing in Frederick — or an attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. At the first of two hearings on both a re-zoning application and a master plan, the applicant noted that due to the unique nature of the site (in terms of size, configuration, access to public streets, bisection of the property by a portion of the RwT (Roads with Trails), partial location within the Highway Noise Impact Overlay (HNO), etc.), it is necessary for the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) to designate the site as MU (mixed-use) and the PC (Planning Commission) to approve numerous requested modifications to the LMC (Land Management Code). Issues and concerns raised at the hearing included, but are not limited to:

Single public vehicular access to the site — Currently Worman’s Mill Court provides the only public access point to the property.
Limited 5000 sq. ft. non-residential building and its location — Questions were raised about the location, size, and use of this facility as it does not seem to meet the criteria for/nor intent of mixed-use properties.
Minimal recreation area on site with payment by developer of a fee-in-lieu of parkland.
Landlocked pedestrians — Although the project is located within walking distance of goods and services north of Rte. 26, there is currently no safe, convenient way to access these facilities.

Hopefully, careful consideration of/decision about all modification requests will assure it’s precisely what the City needs to fill at least a small gap in the affordable housing market. And, we suggest, this (and other future infill projects) would be more valuable to the City and its residents if the projects are developed as mixed-income communities rather than low/moderate income housing. A vote will be taken at the next PC hearing on the rezoning recommendation and proposed site plan.


Mixed Use Development at 69–77 S. Market Street
By a vote of 3–1, the HPC Commissioners agreed that 77 S. Market St is a non-contributing building which leads the way to its demolition. However, the developer, Ausherman Properties, must submit a new and updated Replacement Plan (to replace the 12/11/23 submission) before the HPC Commission approves the actual demolition. A representative of the Union Steam Fire Engine Co. #3 at 79 S. Market Street reminded Commissioners that a nearby concrete block building on W. South Street had been designated as a contributing structure and wondered why 77 S. Market was not afforded the same designation. As well, several neighbors provided public comment on the project, noting the massing and scale of the (original) design for the replacement and its negative impact on their properties, including loss of light, privacy, and parking, and increased noise generated from HVAC units and other mechanicals once the replacement building is constructed. Although the neighbors’ comments focused mainly on the replacement rather than the demolition, these issues cannot be separated as documented by the HPC decision to delay demolition approval until the revised replacement plan is presented. After the meeting, the developer’s representative offered to meet with neighbors who have become a cohesive and active group. UPDATE: As of April 23, 2024, the developer had not submitted a revised replacement plan nor met with neighbors. We will keep you posted when this item is scheduled for discussion.

Lucas Village
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Environment recently approved “the demolition of the entire Lucas Village community,” a public residential neighborhood comprised of 88 units and various community buildings, determining that the site is “high-risk for the formation of sinkholes” and the units are “unsuitable for housing purposes.” Under a plan proposed by the Housing Authority of the City of Frederick (the owner and property manager of the area) families in the affordable housing community are being displaced so the village can be demolished to protect against future sinkholes, associated damages, or injuries, and “imminent health hazards.” Although protection of all families is critical, the Board of Aldermen (BOA) is requesting additional information on how the developer will ensure that the replacement construction will be ‘safe’ from future sinkholes. Further, ensuring temporary housing for the displaced families is critical, as are options for the residents to return to the property at affordable rates.

CRG applauds the restraint shown by the aldermen in taking this precaution for the safety of the future residents (see Lucas Village, Relocation and Redevelopment presentation made to the BOA on April 17th) but requests that other concerns for the specific area be discussed (objectionable summer odors, impact from quarry explosions, proximity to train tracks) and remedies offered.

Board of Aldermen meeting video and documents:
https://cityoffrederick.granicus.com/player/clip/5924?view_id=45&redirect=true


City: Westside Regional Workshop
On May 1st, a workshop was held for the initial presentation by the Sports Facilities Corporation, the consultant for the design and projected uses of Westside Regional Park. The bulk of the meeting was a recap of the two public meetings held April 1st and 2nd, plus updates on a recent online survey.

For CRG there were two major takeaways:
The overwhelming public response was a preference for Community Services at the park along with passive outdoor space. This was in stark contrast to previous and now outdated plans that called for a revenue-generating sportsplex that did little to benefit the surrounding community. CRG strongly supports the choice of the residents for a Community Center to house the needed Community Services.

The presentation left many answered questions and, in some cases, seemed to put the proverbial ‘cart before the horse’. There were too many questions by the BOA that should have been addressed prior to the workshop or the work by the Consultant. There was no information provided about any City objectives for the park, no real discussion on any "must have" amenities, and no clear understanding of the physical and practical limitations of what can or cannot be constructed in the park. All we really know is that the public wants an accessible park and not a sports complex!

It is concerning that such a major opportunity to enrich the lives of the residents of the City and in particular the often underserved community on the west side was not been more thoroughly vetted prior to the start of this process. Clear objectives must be brought forth recognizing that the local community has evolved over the last decade and as such must be the top priority.


City: East Street Redesign
On May 1st, City staff conducted another public charrette on the redesign of East Street from 4th to 8th Streets where citizens were able to express their opinion on proposed realignment of traffic. Unfortunately, this effort seems to be moving the ball backward from the Re-envision East Street study conducted a year ago. The focus seemed to be on the creation of dual bike lanes on the east side of the street. City Staff agreed that the rails and trails path would be designed to accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists. CRG believes that the rails and trails concept should continue down to 4th Street thereby moving the dedicated bike lanes off the busy street and providing room for trees and a stormwater right-of-way. CRG is also encouraging the city to establish a right-of-way for the eventual burial of the current above ground utilities.

A long-range plan for the East Street Corridor should be distributed quickly before any decision is made on the 4th–8th Street redesign. The 4th–8th street traffic lanes, bike and pedestrian use, stormwater options, and relocation of the current and future utilities can then be assessed as part of a planned corridor continuum with implementation of the redesign as development criteria and resources are available.


City: Board of Aldermen & Mayor Workshop: Resident Appointments and Affordable Housing at The Junction and Madison on N. Market
On May 2nd, the City discussed two important topics important to residents. The first was appointments of various citizens to important City commissions including Sustainability (ideally guiding our urban climate program) and Planning (the most important venue for resident examination of proposed development). CRG looks forward to continued dialog between the general public, these commission members, and the City administration. A surprise was the absence of the proposed reappointment of the most experienced member of the Planning Commission, initially nominated to serve again but absent in the final agenda. The loss of the dedicated, informed, and always prepared member of the Planning Commission jeopardizes the high credibility it has earned over the past several years. We hope an explanation for this omission will be provided in the coming weeks.

In the remainder of the workshop, multiple agreements were discussed, many focusing on use of City revenues collected from developers who have chosen not to build City-required moderately priced dwelling units (MPDUs) and instead have paid a fee in-lieu (FIL) that the City has accumulated to more than $6M. Several agreements provide portions of these fees to jump-start two affordable housing projects (the Jefferson Junction project and Madison on N. Market). CRG wholeheartedly welcomes this long overdue use of City housing construction funds, matched with County funds, to move the Junction project forward. A downside is that both projects provide support for residents at no more than 60% of the area median income (AMI), leaving lower income ALICE residents without housing opportunities in these two projects. Additionally, the BOA agreed to seek lower property taxes from the affordable complex at the Junction, thereby reducing the annual property tax burden on the developer enabling lower fiscal demand on the developer to move the project forward.

In the future, CRG believes that all collected FIL be used solely for affordable housing construction with City General Funds covering sorely needed assistance to the homeless and rental assistance for fiscally-challenged lower income families. The two social programs are essential, but the City should indicate its multi-decade support through repeated annual allocation of a portion of property taxes collected to these programs and not reduce housing construction funds collected to actually provide yearly building of a portion of the estimated 12,000–15,000 units needed across the City and County.


More Luxury Condos Downtown
The first condominium on the former Visitation Academy property is fully occupied. The second, a 7-unit condominium building between the first building and E. 2nd Street, will get underway when four units are under contract (two are currently under contract). Neighbors are concerned about the state of road degradation in front of the entrance to the condominiums and the developers promise to inspect the road, and work with the City on any repairs that would take place until after the construction of the second building. Another concern expressed by (primarily) E. Second Street residents is the brightness of the vertical lights on the condominium fa├žade which will impact residents of the second condominium building.

City: B&O Development, Lot 7
On April 25th, the Historic Preservation Committee received testimony from applicants for construction of 5 new townhouses behind the historic and renovated B&O buildings near the MARC Train Station off East Street. The developers propose 4-story townhouses, with renderings showing gray facades (where’s the red brick to match the linear park buildings or the current B&O townhouses?), two bay garages (not permitted facing public streets), and second story balconies (are there any in that area?).

Construction on the site is inevitable, but the developers seek exemptions to ensure reasonable returns on sales. CRG encourages the HPC to insist that developers meet the requirements of City HPC guidelines rather than comply with developer-requested exemptions that will ensure profit for them in the new market. For example, build smaller, with styles and materials that complement the Union Mills and existing B&O townhome facades.


County: Property Tax Increase for School Construction
County Executive Fitzwater is requesting a 4.7% increase in property taxes for school construction. With the rapid growth rate and constant construction of new residential units, and the already overcrowded/overcapacity schools, it’s obvious new schools must be built in order to provide quality educational opportunities for all. CRG generally supports the property tax increase initiative and recognizes it as a good starting point to keep from falling even further behind.

As stated on our call-to-action email last week, only with an all-hands-on-deck approach — leveraging all potential funding options and statewide partnerships — can we hope to resolve this crisis.

Frederick News Post article on the tax increase:
https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/education/funding/fitzwater-proposes-4-7-property-tax-rate-increase-for-fy25-to-fund-school-construction/article_ec4c3ee1-6b07-5580-89d7-b1b3858c2a6f.html


Hotels, Hotels, Hotels
Many Fredericktonians have been following the “downtown hotel” saga for what seems like years. Currently, there are no operating hotels in the downtown core. However, one is on the brink of opening; another has passed a few necessary milestones. The first, Visitation Hotel, is scheduled to open August 15, 2024. Final agreement has been reached with Brian Voltaggio, who will be the creative chef for the hotel restaurant. The first major event at the hotel will be a wedding in mid-October.

The second, the long-planned/promised downtown hotel and conference center, was the discussion topic at a recent community meeting on the site plan. The presentation focused mainly on entrances and surface parking. Some attendees were surprised to learn that the hotel is now set back behind the existing FNP (Frederick News Post) building, although no demolition plans were presented for the rear of the existing building. A primary entrance to the hotel would be off Carroll Street with a drive through the hotel space on the first floor to the existing parking lot (i.e., the former FNP parking lot) on East Patrick across from the Post Office. Among the issues of concern are:

Traffic: There has not yet been a traffic analysis as required by the APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance).
Adherence to FBC (form-based code): Although the project may/may not be in the East Frederick FBC overlay, large street facing parking lots were discouraged. Attendees suggested design of physical screening.
The owner of 226 and 230 East Patrick Street expressed concern about a 5-story building 20 feet from his rear property line. It does not seem as though the HPC can help alleviate his concern.


Ongoing Data Center Concerns
On April 4th, Quantum Loophole contractors violated State and County regulations for illegal discharges from their horizontal drilling operations. Without necessary permits or notification to officials, discharges of drilling clay and the drilling fluid were released into a Monocacy tributary, yielding, in the County’s wording, ‘environmental hazards’. Despite repeated corporation promises for rigorous and continuous oversight, Quantum Loophole has failed again to safeguard the natural landscape and watersheds of the County, raising substantial concern for fulfilling past promises on their role as ‘good neighbors’ during center construction and operations. This continuing casual commitment to protecting local lands and waters seems to reinforce the governor’s and legislature’s recent adoption of weakened environmental protections for this new industry for our area. CRG is amazed that projected annual revenues — insufficient for building even one elementary school — have negatively affected officials’ ability to safeguard what defines a large portion of our County: our lands and waterways.

Upcoming Meetings and Events
County Planning Commission, Winchester Hall, May 8, 9:30 AM: Site plans for a natural burial cemetery and 2 solar facilities (Walkersville, Keymar)

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See the CRG blog at: responsiblegrowthfrederick.com


Contributors: P. Gallagher, S. Jakubczyk, R. Robey, M. Rosensweig, K. Sellner, K. Thomassen

CRG is a grassroots coalition of Frederick residents who prioritize responsible growth, expanding infrastructure, and a functional natural environment. We advocate for development that accommodates projected population increases while fostering a strong and diverse community fabric and increasing economic opportunities. Our comprehensive approach emphasizes public safety, traffic mitigation, increasing school capacity, and housing for all members of our community.

Many Frederick residents want to know — but cannot find — information about how to participate in discussions of important local issues. The City and County generally hold meetings from 3–10 p.m., making it impossible for most of us to attend meetings or weigh in on issues of interest. Our mission with this monthly newsletter is to highlight City and County activities so you can learn more and, with your limited time, weigh in on areas of growth and development, City and County policies, and other local activities. Occasionally, opinions or longer stories will be offered by knowledgeable experts/readers. We welcome suggestions for articles focused on specific topics. Contact Kevin Sellner (kgsellner@gmail.com), Marge Rosensweig (marjorierosensweig@gmail.com), or Steve Jakubczyk (jakubczyksteven@gmail.com) for consideration of your issue.
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Saturday, May 4, 2024

Speak Up: Public hearing on school tax rate increase: May 7th at 7:00pm at Winchester Hall

 Don't miss your opportunity to voice your opinion

Public hearing on school tax rate increase:
May 7th at 7:00pm at Winchester Hall

The Frederick County Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed school tax rate increase to raise funds for school construction on May 7 at Winchester Hall.

CRG generally supports this initiative and recognizes it as a good starting point for the County's elected officials, but much more must be done to keep from falling further behind on school funding.

Only an all-hands-on-deck approach — leveraging all potential funding options and partnerships state-wide — can solve this crisis.

Whether you support or oppose this effort by the County Executive, we strongly encourage you to weigh in; here's how to do so:


Email the Council Members:
CouncilMembers@FrederickCountyMD.gov

Speak at the public hearing:
May 7th at 7:00pm at Winchester Hall
You can attend in person (first floor hearing room) or watch online at https://frederickcountymd.gov/1225/FCG-TV

You can speak in person or via phone.
To call in, follow these directions:
    1.    Call 855-925-2801 and enter code 8365, press 2 to record a voicemail message that will be transcribed and forwarded to the Council Members.
    2.    Call 855-925-2801 and enter code 8365, press 3 to be placed in a muted queue to speak during public comment.

Please join the Citizens for Responsible Growth monthly email list by clicking here.

See the CRG blog at: responsiblegrowthfrederick.com

CRG is a grassroots coalition of Frederick residents who prioritize responsible growth, expanding infrastructure, and a functional natural environment. We advocate for development that accommodates projected population increases while fostering a strong and diverse community fabric and increasing economic opportunities. Our comprehensive approach emphasizes public safety, traffic mitigation, increasing school capacity, and housing for all members of our community.

Many Frederick residents want to know — but cannot find — information about how to participate in discussions of important local issues. The City and County generally hold meetings from 3–10 p.m., making it impossible for most of us to attend meetings or weigh in on issues of interest. Our mission with this monthly newsletter is to highlight City and County activities so you can learn more and, with your limited time, weigh in on areas of growth and development, City and County policies, and other local activities. Occasionally, opinions or longer stories will be offered by knowledgeable experts/readers. We welcome suggestions for articles focused on specific topics. Contact Kevin Sellner (kgsellner@gmail.com), Marge Rosensweig (marjorierosensweig@gmail.com), or Steve Jakubczyk (jakubczyksteven@gmail.com) for consideration of your issue.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest VOL. 3, NO. 4 | APRIL 8, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest

Please join our monthly email list by clicking here.
Learn more about CRG at the bottom of this newsletter.

For quick access, click on a title here, to jump to that article, below:

  1. Thomas Johnson Apartments
  2. Habitat For Humanity Grant Award
  3. Parkland FIL Use
  4. All NAC meeting/NAC 11 meeting re: Hotel
  5. Historic Preservation Commissions
  6. City Charter Review
  7. County Council: Ijamsville +55 Senior Facility and S. Frederick Corridor Small Area Plan
  8. State Legislature Decisions Impacting Frederick City and County
  9. Assuring Sufficient Schools to Meet the Growing Need in Frederick County
  10. Westside Regional Park Update 
  11. Code Changes for Native Landscaping in the City of Frederick
  12. Upcoming Meetings and Events


Thomas Johnson Apartments
On March 18, Ausherman Properties indicated that the company would pay fees in-lieu (FIL) for not building the required 10–11 MPDU units for the proposed development at the Thomas Johnson Apartments, citing ‘obligations and red tape’ for not constructing the units while targeting renters at 80–120% of AMI. With PC member and City staff support, the developer’s justification was accepted, thereby not providing sorely needed affordable housing for our low-moderate income residents. CRG acknowledges the legitimacy of the developer’s assertion of obligations and red tape yet wonders if the concept of “mixed income” housing, a key goal of the MPDU program, is appreciated or endorsed by the City. In response, CRG suggests overcoming these impediments might be accommodated by assistance of an MPDU expert in Planning (or other relevant staff) to guide developers throughout the MPDU development and maintenance process. As well, outreach to Montgomery County which has a robust MPDU program without any FIL “buyout” might be worth considering.

Habitat For Humanity Grant Award
On March 21, the Board agreed unanimously to support a $200,000 grant (using City Housing Funds, derived from MPDU FIL collections) to Habitat for Humanity to cover unforeseen costs associated with the project on All Saints/Ice Streets. Alderpersons acknowledged how important this project is to help low-income families build wealth as the 12 units will be condos not rentals — a good step forward to provide housing and an opportunity to build equity for this portion of our community. But are there other public or public-private partnerships that should be pursued to support the needed housing while amassing MPDU funds to build (or provide seed or gap financing for) mixed-income housing? CRG looks forward to new options to provide housing in a diverse mixed-income complex, help build equity for lower-to-moderate income persons, and dramatically expand public-private options to build more housing.

Parkland FIL Use
On March 20, the Board of Aldermen (BOA) decided to allow a FIL to eliminate the parkland requirement in an 11-unit townhouse development off Baughmans Lane. The dedicated portion of the land would be less than 3 acres, thus not viable for Parks and Recreation. There was some confusion among Alderpersons about what the funds could be used for if not a park. Bottom line: Parkland fees can only be used to fund parks or pay off park debt and not for any other City need.

All NAC meeting/NAC 11 meeting re: Hotel
The hotel/conference center workshop was presented at the all-NAC City planning meeting on Monday, March 18, and discussed during the NAC 11 meeting on March 19. There was also some discussion of the project at the East Frederick Rising meeting on March 20 where Richard Griffin confirmed the project is moving forward but the recognition that some hurdles remain. The major point raised was that the site plan reveals an approximately 10% smaller hotel/conference center than originally proposed. Concern was expressed about the magnitude of the public side of the proposed partnership. The developer and the City have apparently agreed to go forward with a plan that will allow full parking, necessary for the project to be accommodated on-site with two levels of underground parking in the plans. The impact on traffic from hotel/conference center activities was not discussed but will be included as part of the APFO submittals later in the review process. The proposed site plan could not be found on the City website. More transparency and details are required.

Historic Preservation Commissions

City HPC: Item 11 on the long March 28 Historic Preservation Commission agenda was a demolition plan for 69 S. Market Street. This plan is a piece of an overall development project for a mixed-use 5 story building just south of Carroll Creek Linear Park. A demolition plan for 77 S. Market Street (one of the three lots devoted to the new construction) has been proposed; this demolition plan was not approved at a prior workshop as a tie vote by members prevented a decision on whether the structure was contributing (historic) or not. The overall proposal received both positive and negative comments.

Clearly, the developer took careful note of the comments and has revised/reworked the development plan, including the demolition at 69 S. Market Street. Instead of retaining only the east and north facades of the historic building, the entire shell will be retained and incorporated into the (yet undefined) new construction. Some defining features will be removed — most significantly the rear (west) facing open porches. After lengthy discussion, commissioners agreed that, until they had a better idea of the revised overall development, they were unable to make any substantive comments on the demolition plan for 69 S. Market Street. This agreement led to a decision that the developer would provide revised renderings and/or a revised overall site plan at the time of or prior to the April 11 HPC workshop focusing on demolition of the possibly non-contributing (non-historic) 77 S. Market Street building. CRG members have volunteered to help residents of the 69–77 S. Market Street development area understand proposed demolitions and specific future construction to guide their interactions with the developer and City staff in finalizing this area plan. This is an important project for downtown with several moving and interrelated parts. Stay tuned!

County HPC: On April 2, the County Council adopted an amended ordinance providing that when the County identifies private property that should be considered a historic property, the owner has the right to provide comment. Although it would be unlikely that an owner would not offer comment without the amended rule, this guarantees owner input. This is an important stipulation because once designated ‘historic’ or ‘a contributing resource’, the owner has fewer options in modifying the property.


City Charter Review
On March 27, the Board of Aldermen (now informally addressing itself as the Council and Council members) reviewed and discussed Charter Review Committee (the Committee) Recommendations #5 and #6, age and residency requirements and term limits.

Recommendation #5:  Age and Residency requirements for the Mayor and Council members.  In general, Council members agreed that the revised Charter should include such requirements. As for age, the Committee’s recommendation is 18 for a council member and 21 for Mayor. Council members thought a minimum age of 18 should be required for all offices, though some opined that age 21 was an appropriate minimum age for Mayor. If this differential age minimum were applied, however, what happens if a mayor pro tem (the highest popular vote recipient or elected by her/his peer council members) is under age 21? 

Recommendation #6: As for residency requirements, the Committee recommended a minimum 3-year residency for Mayor and a 1-year residency for Council members. Again, Council members concurred with a need for a residency requirement but were not sure about the length of such. The City Attorney asserted that the 1-year requirement was more legally defensible, adding that other jurisdictions have been unsuccessful in the courts when attempting to impose a longer residency requirement. The most critical issue, added council members, is the City’s (or the Legislative body’s) ability to enforce residency throughout the term of the elected official, reflecting on past Mayors and (then aldermen) who resided (officially) in other jurisdictions during their term but were allowed to remain in office.


County Council: Ijamsville +55 Senior Facility and S. Frederick Corridor Small Area Plan
On March 20, the County Council voted to rezone 35 acres for Knowledge Farms, a mixed-use age restricted (i.e., 55+) community in Ijamsville. There would be 150 assisted living beds and 147 age restricted units. The primary obstacle is a second access to MD 355, requiring MD SHA approval. Although providing housing for older members of our community is a necessity, there is no mention of affordable housing for the development, raising fear for more extraordinarily expensive housing for well-off residents without addressing reasonable housing prices for low-to-middle income seniors or others https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/economy_and_business/real_estate_and_development/county-council-approves-rezoning-for-ijamsville-mixed-use-development-with-conditions/article_528c4626-4e80-5f71-a30e-34f738630027.html.

In a first, very positive and inspiring meeting, the Council also unanimously adopted the S. Frederick Corridor Small Area Plan applying form-based code, a zoning approach that emphasizes consistent building and street designs versus assigning specific uses to individual properties in an area (e.g., residential, industrial, commercial, institutional, etc.). The area between routes 85 and 355, out to Buckeystown and the Monocacy Battlefields, will be a high-density zone built around an extensive interconnected street network and parkland. Implementation of the plan is the next major step and CRG applauds County Planning staff’s willingness to incorporate input from residents, businesses, and developers to revitalize the largely commercial and industrial area as well as the Planning Commission and Council for their continuous support for this progressive plan. Now for the City’s languishing East Street Corridor’s form-based code effort: What’s taking so long?


State Legislature Decisions Impacting Frederick City and County

Residential Sales / Contract Disclosures: CRG congratulates members Betty Law and Bobbi Huber for their efforts as a part of a small team trying to initiate legislation to inform future homeowners about nearby Superfund sites. The legislation, HB0486/SB0125 (Residential Property Sales — Contract Disclosures — Superfund Sites), was sponsored by Delegate Fair and Senators Lewis Young and Folden, recently passing through the House and Senate in Annapolis. The bill is currently in final legislation processing. Key points in the legislation are notification through a signed disclosure statement that the home being purchased is within one mile of a National Priorities List Superfund Site. The buyer will have a 5 day right of rescission if they decide not to make the purchase. This will ensure that people moving into an area potentially impacted by a Superfund site, like Fort Detrick's Area B, have the information they need about the site's potential health impacts to keep their families safe. Mrs. Law and Ms. Huber want to thank Senators Lewis Young and Folden and Delegate Fair for their efforts. Also special thanks to Clean Water Action and Jennifer Kunze (of that organization and our team member) and Jen Hahn (our team lead) for their efforts in keeping the bill on track and guiding us through the process.
 
Data Center Legislation: Ms. Law is also to be congratulated for her strong and repeated commitment to encouraging our legislators to adopt responsible data center building and operation requirements through her assistance to Senator Karen Lewis Young. Unfortunately, the governor and state legislators seem to be primarily focused on the theoretical $41M tax revenue and job projections predicted from data center construction and performance. The Governor's bill is in direct conflict with the legislature’s passage of its own requirements for carbon emissions, power demand, and commitment to renewable energy sources in the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. The Governor’s legislation (SB474/HB579) eliminates the Public Service Commission’s role in regulating diesel generation, thereby removing a critical check on unlimited data center back-up energy-supported operations. The existing PSC process would not have automatically rejected diesel generators but could have imposed environmental restrictions or compensation for emissions. CRG is concerned about the positive posture of (some) environmentally committed representatives to this data center legislation. However, due to pressure brought by Senator Karen Lewis Young and a few colleagues, environmental groups, and individuals, amendments to the legislation have been adopted. The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) will report to the General Assembly every two years on the feasibility of clean emergency backup generation, ideally to be used to pressure data center adoption of new, cleaner backup technology as it becomes available. Further, the League of Conservation Voters’ amendment would divert 15% of the revenue from data centers to a fund that will meet the state’s climate goals. It’s anticipated that next year more concessions may be won from the Governor, Assembly, and data center lobbyists.


Assuring Sufficient Schools to Meet the Growing Need in Frederick County
Frederick City and County are in dire need of more schools to meet anticipated population growth. Every effort should be made to advance one or more of the options below that move projects forward. The County and the impacted municipalities can best address this need only by working together. No longer can a City, e.g., Frederick, allow extensive development while abdicating responsibility to the County for our children's education: any developer who is seeking to be part of our County's and City's growth must be told from the beginning that they need to be true partners in the allocation of both land and financial support towards school construction.
Options: 

#1: Embracing an urban school concept (i.e., city schools in dense population areas) especially where land/space are limited. 
#2: Forward funding: Basically, a contract between the developer and the County where the developer agrees to fund and build a school for a pre-determined purchase price by the County. This process helps expedite and potentially expand construction of needed schools and has reportedly been used more than once in Frederick County both in the building of schools (Waverly) and for the FCPS Administrative offices.
#3: Lease back construction/P3: Currently utilized in Prince Georges County as part of their multiple funding options approach to help build 18 schools (6 of which opened this year) in 10 years. The basic premise is that the developer funds, builds, and maintains the school for 30 years. During that time, the County pays off the debt annually from its Operating Budget and takes over the school at the end of the 30-year period. The advantages are obvious - faster builds and more schools with the expense (to the County) more easily allocated over an extended time period.
#4: Co-locations: Combining undeveloped, limited public parkland space with a critically needed school to enhance utilization of both. An urban school concept (see #1 above) for an elementary school works in this configuration. Baltimore County has used this model successfully in Parkton, MD.
#5: Wait for money from the State to slowly, slowly drop from the legislature. Not Recommended.

We (the City and County along with developers) need an all-hands-on-deck approach to put Frederick back on track to providing a quality education for our children. As the City and the County population base grows at the fastest rate in Maryland, anything less is unacceptable. The Maryland General Assembly has taken the initiative under bills SB 1152/HB 1016 to establish a Frederick County School Construction Master Plan Workgroup to comprehensively evaluate all school facility needs in the County and explore solutions including those mentioned above. If adopted these bills would require that any recommendations be adopted by the end of the year. CRG applauds this effort and encourages Frederick County and City officials to fully support and engage with this workgroup.
 

Westside Regional Park Update 
 On behalf of the City, The Ausherman Family Foundation sponsored public meetings on April 2 and 3 to give residents an opportunity to provide input on their needs and preferences for a completed park on the west side. On the one hand, the primary focus of the Sports facilities consultant group describes athletic fields and a sport complex designed to attract regional tournaments and events from outside the City. On the other hand, residents of the surrounding west side community — who will be the primary users of the park — advocated for more traditional non-athletic amenities. Chief among these preferred amenities would be a full-fledged Community Center to serve the needs of the residents on the west side. In addition, sheltered picnic areas, bike paths, and ample green space could make the park more family-friendly along with providing a safe environment for all.
 
The major challenge in the development of the park is developable space. CRG supports an effort that looks to maximize the best of both worlds — offering key athletic components while assuring construction of the critical assets that will help enhance the quality of life for local residents.

 

Code Changes for Native Landscaping in the City of Frederick
At a City workshop on April 3, Jenny Willoughby, the City's Sustainability Manager, submitted proposed changes to the City's code to match Maryland House Bill 322 (legislation that prohibits imposing unreasonable limitations on low-impact landscaping, such as rain gardens, pollinator gardens, and xeriscaping).

The Sustainability Department supports efforts to improve habitat, reduce energy costs, capture and treat stormwater onsite, and reduce outdoor watering needs through low-impact landscaping. This update to City code would provide specific definitions (for managed low-impact landscapes, native plants, noxious weeds or plants, invasive plants, pollinator gardens, rain gardens, meadows, xeriscapes); aesthetic requirements; and maintenance requirements that will provide guidance on how low-impact gardens can fit into the Cityscape.

To watch a video of the workshop online and learn more specifics of the proposal, go to https://cityoffrederick.granicus.com/player/clip/5892?view_id=45&redirect=true
. There will be more discussion of the proposed code changes in future City meetings.

Upcoming Meetings and Events
City Planning Commission, April 8, City Hall, 6 PM: Workshop and hearings of multiple new developments, including 226 W. South Street; Belle Air Planned Neighborhood Development; Sycamore Springs Planned Neighborhood Development; Wormans Mill Court Apartments. https://cityoffrederick.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=12&event_id=4174

City Charter Review Legislative Session, April 10, City Hall, 1 PM: Recommendations 8, 9, 10, and 11

County Planning Commission, April 10, Winchester Hall, 9:30 AM: New construction in Middletown, Libertytown, and Frederick. Additionally, a Site Development Plan approval to construct two buildings totaling approximately 550,000 square feet of warehouse space in New Market. https://www.frederickcountymd.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/15112

  
________________

See the CRG blog at: responsiblegrowthfrederick.com


Contributors: P. Gallagher, R. Huber, S. Jakubczyk, E. Law, R. Robey, M. Rosensweig, K. Sellner, K. Thomassen

CRG is a grassroots coalition of Frederick residents who prioritize responsible growth, expanding infrastructure, and a functional natural environment. We advocate for development that accommodates projected population increases while fostering a strong and diverse community fabric and increasing economic opportunities. Our comprehensive approach emphasizes public safety, traffic mitigation, increasing school capacity, and housing for all members of our community.

Many Frederick residents want to know — but cannot find — information about how to participate in discussions of important local issues. The City and County generally hold meetings from 3–10 p.m., making it impossible for most of us to attend meetings or weigh in on issues of interest. Our mission with this monthly newsletter is to highlight City and County activities so you can learn more and, with your limited time, weigh in on areas of growth and development, City and County policies, and other local activities. Occasionally, opinions or longer stories will be offered by knowledgeable experts/readers. We welcome suggestions for articles focused on specific topics. Contact Kevin Sellner (kgsellner@gmail.com), Marge Rosensweig (marjorierosensweig@gmail.com), or Steve Jakubczyk (jakubczyksteven@gmail.com) for consideration of your issue.
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Frederick City and County News of Interest VOL. 3, NO. 6 | JUNE 7, 2024

Frederick City and County News of Interest Please join our monthly email list by clicking here . Learn more about CRG at the bottom of ...