|Whats a Community Worth to You?
By Bill Papian
By way of re-introduction, Id like to remind our readers of the several articles I wrote in this column on the subject of growth back in 1998. (Ive often wondered whether those articles might have influenced the Anne Arundel County election in 98, even if only a tiny bit; the county does seem to be somewhat less development-prone than it was back then.)
The point of those articles was that we do have tools for controlling growth. Those tools are a reasonable set of zoning laws and a well-thought out General Development Plan. But in past years, the county administration, council, Department of Planning and Code Enforcement and the Office of Law prevented us from sharpening and using those tools effectively.
Why that happened was due to many factors, one among them an occasionally expressed worry that a developer frustrated by a zoning regulation might sue the county. The complaint would be that enforcement of that particular regulation so deprived the developer of property rights that it became a constitutional taking.
I discussed this issue in earlier articles, but Ive recently read a Washington Post article that leads me to bring up the subject again.
In Double-Dip Conservation, John D. Echeverria, director of the Environmental Policy Project at Georgetown University Law Center, lends credence to the belief that such a suit is unlikely to be tried or succeed.
The market value of land, he reminds us, is created in large measure, by public investments in the surrounding area. Land drainage, roads, schools and sewerage are a few such taxpayer-financed investments. It seems to Echeverria, and to me, unfair to ask the taxpayers to pay the full, and often inflated, market value for a parcel to which they have already contributed.
His recommendations, aimed at some happenings in Virginia, is that jurisdictions should use their regulatory tools zoning, impact fees and the like to conserve land, control growth and discourage sprawl while leaving outright purchase for other public purposes. His conclusion: neither the original intentions of the drafters of the Bill of Rights
nor the rulings of the Supreme Court bar the use of regulatory measures to limit and channel development.
Anne Arundel Countys previous executive, John Gary, left a decent land-use legacy. The county and the state purchased some sensitive parcels for dedication as open space and park land and, best of all, he and his planning department instituted the Small Area Planning now underway.
The first five Small Area Planning committees completed their reports about a year ago. Those plans have been negotiated and have worked their way through the countys planning department and advisory board and are well on their way to the council for final approval.
Five more, including the South County and the Deale/Shady Side committees, have been hard at work for over a year. Their reports have been completed and forwarded to county planning for negotiations. Public forums are planned for early May.
I have attended almost all of the meetings of the Deale/Shady Side committee and contributed to one of their subcommittees. In general, there has been little public participation even though the meetings were publicized. The upcoming public forums and the subsequent open-to-the-public meetings of the Planning Advisory Board and county council offer further opportunities for citizens to shape each plan.
Many very worthwhile reforms are suggested in the reports of the various planning committees. We are left now to hope and expect that the county will indeed take them seriously, thus helping to realize the lofty goals of the General Development Plan.
Here, again, are some of those goals:
- Protect rural, agricultural, and sensitive environmental resources;
- Protect and preserve the Bay and its tributaries, improve water and air quality, achieve environmentally sensitive land use;
- Promote conservation of water resources and protection of aquifers;
- Preserve the southern and rural areas of the county essentially rural in character; and finally,
- Recognize that the county has many peninsulas where limited road capacity and sensitive environmental features will restrict development.
In preparing Small Area Plans involving peninsulas, careful consideration must be given to the peninsulas infrastructure and its limits, the environmental implications of growth and the impact of development on the quality of life.
Anne Arundel County government committed itself to those goals in 1997, and the present government was elected with a re-affirming mandate. Lets hold them to it.