Monday, July 31, 2006

A Small Step for the Bay

Some relatively good news for the Chesapeake today, the Capital reports that Maryland and Virginia have come to an agreement to limit the annual harvest of menhaden from the Bay. Of course, in this instance, it isn't the Maryland fishery that's the problem, it's the ravenous Omega Proteins plant based in Reedville, Virginia that is taking the small, oily fish at an unsustainable rate.

The new agreement caps the annual take at 109,000 tons a year (down from the 189,500 ton average annual landings during the 1990s). A coalition called Menhaden Matter was working to halt the fishery, while the state of the menhaden fishery could be studied. If ever there was a tragedy of the commons, surely this is it: A giant corporate behemoth, based in Texas, operating out of Virginia, raids our collective resource, and privatizes the profits 1,500 miles away, while a cascade of bay-area fisheries collapse.

Along these same lines, I hope each of you will take the time to read this bone-chilling series from the Baltimore Sun/LA Times on the decline of our oceans.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

County Executive Candidates Views on Growth

The Sun asked each of the seven candidates running for County Executive about their views on growth. Here are their answers.

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Trying to Get a Handle on Growth, Across the Region

Yesterday's Sun had a very interesting piece, where they interviewed the planning departments from five suburban Baltimore counties (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard) on a number of vital statistics.

CountyAPF*Taxes**Build Out
Anne ArundelIf schools are over capacity, developer must wait until more space is available. APF includes roads, fire suppression, sewage disposal, storm drainage and water supply.$2,346/$4,61740,000-50,000 more units
BaltimoreIf schools are over 15% over capacity, hearing officer can deny project or place it in a queue. APF includes roads, sewage disposal, and water supply.None.????
CarrollIf schools are over 20% over capacity, developer must wait until more space is available. APF includes roads, fire and emergency services, police, water and sewerage.$2,787/$7,61028,000-37,000 more units
HarfordIf schools are over 5% over capacity, developer must wait until more space is available. APF includes roads, and water and sewer service.$1,473/$7,44230,000 more units
HowardThe county caps homebuilding at 1,850 units a year. f schools are over 15% over capacity, developer must wait until more space is available. APF includes roads.$1.80/sqft25,000 more units

So what's the summary? Our adequacy of public facilities laws seem to be the tightest in the region, covering the widest range of infrastructure impacts (though I've never seen any of the constraints, beside schools, stop a project). Our impact fees are woefully inadequate, even by local standards. An accurate assessment probably puts them at about 1/3 of where they should be. Build-out. If 40,000-50,000 new homes in the County (the most in the region, aside from Baltimore County, which is apparently clueless on the matter) doesn't scare you, nothing will. At current rates, and with our existing impact fees in place, we would be $360 million additional dollars in the red as a result of that new build-out. That's to say nothing of the additional traffic, pollution, sewer and water problems caused by adding another 100,000-150,000 residents.

* Adequate public facilities ordinances
** Multifamily unit/Larger unit impact fees

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Friday, July 21, 2006

See How Things Really Work

Want to gain some real insight into how Anne Arundel County operates, be sure to join the Homebuilders Association of Maryland as they have their regular monthly meeting with the Department heads from Planning and Zoning, Joe Rutter, and Inspections and Permits, Spurge Eismeier. It would be nice to have some concerned citizens shed the light of day on what's transpiring at these meetings between the people charged with protecting our communities, and those who, very often, are seeking to bulldoze them under.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Army, Navy, Upgrade Latrines

Wednesday's Capital reports that, after much whining and mewling, the the Department of Defense is finally coming clean on its wastewater obligations. Representatives from the Army and Navy initially argued that the federal government was not required to pay the State's "Flush Fee" because it was, they said, a tax. The Department of Defense's extensive holdings in the County, which include the US Naval Academy, Fort Meade and the former David Taylor Research Center, would have required it to pay approximately $900,000 a year towards the fee.

Instead, the Department of Defense has agreed to upgrades to their wastewater treatment facilities totaling $22 million and meet discharge limits set by the State. Congratulations to the DoD for doing the right thing. I wonder how they'll react to a watershed restoration fund. Will rain barrels replace gun barrels?


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

More Unrest on the Magothy

Today's Washington Post tells the story of Dobbins Island and the efforts by its new owner to cordon it off to the public. Unlike the owner of Little Dobbins Island, David Clickner, the owner of Dobbins Island, seems committed to following the proper laws before building his home. Nonetheless, it's a shame to lose one of the last "wild" places on the river.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Fowler's Swan Song

On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran an interesting piece about Bernie Fowler, the former State Senator, who, in an effort to save the Patuxent River (or at least raise awareness about its plight) started, in 1988, a series of wade-ins, walking in to the water until he could no longer see his shoes. Now, two decades later, the annual wade-ins have become much publicized and well attended events. Politicos of all stripes, volunteers, and environmentally-minded folks rarely miss an opportunity to be photographed up to their knees (or in a good year, up to their thighs) in the Patuxent side-by-side with Fowler, now 82.

Problem is, despite Fowler's efforts, and those of others to clean up the Patuxent, not much has changed in those 19 years. The Patuxent still absorbs 60 millions gallons of sewage plant effluent a day. It's even been said by some that the Patuxent gets half its flow from wastewater. The nitrogen and phosphorous cause algae blooms which choke the life from the River's subaquatic plants and vegetation.

Fowler hopes one day to be able to wade-in up to his chest (63 inches) and be able to see his frayed canvas sneakers in the depths below (this year, he could only see to 27 inches). With more intense development planned on the Patuxent, it's hard to be optimistic.

Below is a poem written by Chesapeake bard, Tom Wisner, to commemorate Bernie Fowler's Wade-ins.

Bernie Fowler Day: A Guide to Wading in the Southern Maryland Waters

You just wade out in the river,
give it all you got
Right up to your chest.
And then you pick your spot.

Next you take your peepers
And cast them slowly down
On the day we see our feet again
There'll be celebration in this town.

It's Bernie's measure!
It's simple - yet profound.
We got a treasure!
You can't buy it by the pound.

The scientists had told them
Everything they knew,
Still - the folks were puzzled
And they didn't know what to do.

'Cause I ask you what's the profit
If we gain these worldly things
And foul the air and water
And all the life that brings?

Well - we should do this yearly
On Bernie Fowler Day.
Dress up fit to kill
And wade out all the way.

All the politicians gathered.
They'd come from miles around
To talk about the river
That flows by Solomons town.

Seems they had a problem
Things were looking bad.
They'd looked at all resources
And used everything they had.

"If you can't see your cloppers
There'll be trouble in this town
We oughta sue those upper counties
For the junk they're sending down."

It came 'round to Bernie Fowler
And he stood among the best.
He said, "folks, if you'll bear with me,
I think I got a test."

"I think I have a measure
That can't be beat
You just wade out in the river
And look down to see your feet."

Well - we should do this yearly
On Bernie Fowler Day.
Dress up fit to kill
And wade out all the way.

And somewhere in the future,
We'll look and see our feet again.
Could we ask for more?
That day is coming sure

It's Bernie's measure,
And it ain't hard to do.
It's a pleasure!
And it will soothe you too.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ask, and You Shall Receive....Sort Of

Yesterday, I lamented that the County was unlikely to follow Annapolis' lead in putting forth a building moratorium. Then, The Capital came out reporting that one Councilman, Ed Reilly (R - District 7) and his opponent, Green Party candidate Robert Tufts, support a temporary ban on building along Route 3. A straw poll of Tuesday night's growth forum in Crofton showed that about 70 percent of those in attendence supported the idea of a moratorium [I have, in the past, requested that Dan Nataf of the Center for Study of Local Issues at AACC include such an item on his regular countywide poll. He has yet to do so, as far as I know].

Crofton is, of course, currently ground zero for big box development, with an expansion of the Pillage at Waugh Chapel, a Wegman's, and a Wal-Mart looking to belly up to the Route 3 buffet. The proposed horse stadium/sand mine, is just down the road. The potential freeze is appropriate given Mr. Reilly's recent bout of cold feet. With big box developments proposed for Crofton, Edgewater, and Lothian, chances are, Big Ed is hearing a little more vociferously from his constituents than he would usually desire. The move does represent an important step on the part of the Councilman, however, it seems to suggest that he's listening. David Boschert, Republican candidate for County Executive, seems not to have been paying as much attention, "he's interested in working with Wal-Mart and property owner William Berkshire to run traffic leaving the proposed store parallel to Route 3 out to Defense Highway."

P.S. Check out the snark from Joe Rutter in response to Reilly's eleventh hour conversion: "[I'd] certainly be glad to take the hit on this project for all those that have ambitions for public office."


Billion Dollar Backlog

We knew it was bad. Last year, Eric Smith's school system task force suggested the maintenance backlog for County schools would be $750 million by 2009. Today's Capital describes the findings from the recently released MGT of America report to the Board of Education. In addition to some small-scale redistricting recommendations, the report examines the conditions of all the schools in Anne Arundel County, and makes suggestions about what to do with overcrowded and poorly performing schools. This recent report puts the maintenance backlog at $1.5 billion, and recommends that 10 schools, including 3 high schools, be replaced. That is almost 4 times the Board of Education's annual budget. This crisis has been looming for some time, and it shouldn't have snuck up on anyone who has been paying attention, but it has, and now something needs to be done about it.

The County needs to make a genuine commitment to knocking down this backlog by $50-100 million/year, and our Delegates and Senators need to procure funding from the State to help augment these funds. The pro-development Ponzi scheme has failed and its time for responsible adults to step up to the plate and make sure our infrastructure stops crumbling beneath our feet.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Finally, a Moratorium

Well, on Monday night, the Annapolis City Council, led by Alderman Josh Cohen, decided to do the right thing. They put a moratorium on major new development projects until the City can ensure adequate public facilities are in place. Though the moratorium doesn't apply to projects already under way, it will affect future projects coming into the pipeline. Mayor Ellen Moyer and two allies on the Council, Wayne Taylor (D-Ward 4) & Classie Hoyle (D-Ward 3) opposed the measure, offering that "It doesn't stop traffic and it doesn't stop development that is in the hopper." True on both counts. Of course, having $850k cut from the public transportation budget doesn't help much either, but that's neither here nor there.

A representative from the beleaguered development community, Dennis Murphy of Murphy and Hogan Commercial Real Estate in Annapolis stated (with a straight face, apparently), "I think a blanket moratorium sends the wrong message that Annapolis is anti-growth and anti-development." Mr. Murphy, I think a casual drive down just about any of Annapolis' congested arteries, flanked by construction cranes, would disabuse the naive of that notion.

Now, if only we could get the County Council to act so sensibly.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Participate in the Annapolis Plan

Not happy with the direction Annapolis is headed? Pleased but want to make sure it stays on the right track? Then become a part of the Annapolis Master Planning Process. You can't make your voice heard if you aren't willing to speak up.

City residents interested in shaping the future of the city are invited to join a citizen advisory committee to help the Department of Planning and Zoning develop the upcoming Comprehensive Plan.

A Comprehensive Plan, which is set every 10 years and will begin in 2008, outlines problems the city could face within the next decade and how the city can best plan for the future.

Citizens serving on the committee will be required to attend monthly meetings for a minimum of 18 months, beginning in September and will be asked to review background materials, reports and drafts of the plan.

Those interested must fill out a questionnaire by July 31. It is available online at the city's Web site at

The 25 committee members selected will be notified in August. For more information, contact Daria Hardin or Virginia Burke at (410) 263-7961. [Excerpted from the Capital]


Friday, July 07, 2006

Get Off the Bus

Today's Capital reports that as a result of federal shifting of transportation funds, bus service in the County, which is largely provided by the City of Annapolis, stands to lose about 20% of its budget ($850,000) over the next 2 years. Credit should be given to the City, which is already doing the heavy lifting for the County, which has no bus service of its own, but this latest shift doesn't bode well for a public transportation system which is already pretty anemic beyond the City borders. Smaller counties with similar development patterns, like Howard County, have a bus system, why can't Anne Arundel County? As has been discussed in some circles before, is it time for Anne Arundel County to create a Department of Transportation and actually start doing something about the traffic difficulties that most county residents face on a daily basis?


Monday, July 03, 2006

Running Unopposed

I'm generally of the opinion that it's a sad, sad day for democracy when we've got uncontested races for political office. Today, Monday, July 3, is the deadline to file to run, and as of right now, there are no opponents to the incumbents in 3 of the 7 County Council races. Districts 2, 3, and 5 have no Democratic (or other) challengers to the sitting Republicans, Ed Middlebrooks, Ron Dillon, and Cathy Vitale. If you would like to stand (or run) you have about 9 more hours to get to the State Board of Elections in Annapolis and declare your intent [pdf]. Pasadena, Linthicum, and Severna Park deserve a choice in November.