Development puts urban sprawl on rural setting The Sun...


July 16, 2000

Development puts urban sprawl on rural setting

The Sun continues to press for approval of the Maple Lawn Farms mixed-use center in rural Fulton. "Pass it they must," the latest editorial tells the zoning board (July 7).

The same editorial concludes that the project has "risk" but "some risk can be tolerated to test it."

Easy for The Sun to say. They won't have to live with the results if the experiment fails. And failure looks likely, based upon the thin case made by the developer during the many zoning hearings on the case.

Let's look again at why Maple Lawn Farms is such a good idea for, say, downtown Baltimore, but such a bad idea for rural Fulton.

The Sun says "... this project would be a showpiece for Smart Growth." How? By pushing dense urban sprawl across 500 acres of Howard County farmland that has a current base zoning of rural residential (a house per 4.25 acres)?

I thought that was exactly what Smart Growth was all about preventing. If this is smart growth, I'd hate to see dumb.

The editorial says that "work, school and job sites would be within walking distance of many who settle there." That's careful wording to cover the fact that neither the developer nor The Sun has ever offered a shred of hard evidence that mixed-use actually results in less traffic.

Yes, a few people might walk. But in other mixed-use centers (i.e., Columbia) with pedestrian paths, most people still drive.

Even the most ardent supporters of mixed-use know that, in our car-based society, mixed-use will overburden our already clogged roads.

This is particularly true of Maple Lawn Farms, where the local road network is not yet even funded for the necessary upgrades to handle more development, let alone more urban sprawl.

Worst of all, The Sun alternately ignores or glosses over the fact that Maple Lawn Farms is grossly out of character with the surroundings, a key "compatibility" requirement of the mixed-use zoning regulations that is not being met by a country mile.

Urban development should not be wedged right in among longstanding rural development, period.

If the zoning board can't see that, the courts might. Better to correct this before issuing a decision and order, than after a long and expensive lawsuit. And that appears to be what zoning board members Christopher J. Merdon and Allan H. Kittleman are correctly trying to do. Too bad the newspaper has chosen to attack them for it.

In fact, perhaps most disturbing of all is the role the newspaper has taken in this process. Far from being an "honest broker," The Sun has consistently repeated the developer's case, and even personally attacked the two councilmen who have attempted to achieve a reasonable compromise.

In essence, The Sun threatened the councilmen to toe the line or face our wrath, not an idle threat by any means.

The press has enormous power and, in this case, evidently isn't afraid to misuse it.

Moreover, the newspaper is using its editorial power to testify in favor of the proposal, while citizens in opposition to it are restricted to public hearings, and whatever edited letters the newspaper decides to publish.

Maple Lawn Farms is not Smart Growth. It's just smart business for a developer who will not have to live with the results.

The zoning case itself is seriously flawed, and fails to meet the zoning regulations for compatibility with surrounding properties. Reasonable fixes could be made to bring the project into compliance, but even minor suggestions bring hysterical opposition.

The zoning board needs to make Maple Lawn Farms compatible with low-density vicinal rural properties, or send the case back to the drawing board.

John W. Taylor, Highland

Pfau press agentry masks destructive plans

Does Jamie Smith Hopkins not know a press release when she reads one?

As someone who has worked in publishing for over 20 years, perhaps I could give her a few lessons.

Number one, if nothing negative is said about someone, for example, as illustrated in the July 7 article on Michael L. Pfau ("Developer keeps fighting in Ellicott City") and that businessman seems like a lone David fighting the mighty residential Goliath, there is probably another side to the story.

We do get a glimpse of that other side but not before reading the whole front page section which makes Mr. Pfau seem like some good ole boy with a "pull 'em up by the bootstraps" background that gives him the right to make as much money now as possible.

Who cares that he had no money when he got out of college or grew up in a small town in North Dakota? He was "forced" to change his plans for development in historic Ellicott City because they blatantly disregarded all the historical and ecological guidelines.

These guidelines were set down by the politicians who, while campaigning, professed to want to protect the area and by the people who work continually to make sure that all building and construction meet certain specifications that ensure the area will survive intact for coming generations to enjoy.

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