Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Gardner argues over proposal’s true title

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A proposal to temporarily stop some home construction for two years in Frederick County has not only generated plenty of press and public scrutiny, but also a debate over what to call it.

Frederick County commissioners announced the proposed moratorium at a Jan. 8 press conference, calling it a ‘‘temporary moratorium on subdivision activity.”

They insist it is not a ‘‘building moratorium” because building permits will continue to be issued for housing developments already under construction.

‘‘The BOCC [Board of County Commissioners] has not proposed a building moratorium,” Board President Jan H. Gardner (D) said in an e-mail. ‘‘The BOCC is putting a temporary hold on subdivision for some large residential projects that have not yet begun construction. This proposal is not a building moratorium since building will continue at whatever level the market will support during the entire time of the proposal.” Opponents of the proposal aren’t buying it.

‘‘Absolutely it’s a building moratorium,” said Del. Galen R. Clagett (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick. ‘‘It’s freezing building, and that’s a building moratorium. A rose by any other name is still a rose. It’s a moratorium and a moratorium means not building houses. Call it what it is — a building moratorium.”

Clagett, who opposes the moratorium, served on the Board of County Commissioners from 1978-1986, and was president of the board from 1982-1986. He is also real estate broker and president of Clagett Enterprises Inc., a property management firm in Frederick.

Commissioners announced on Jan. 8 a proposal to temporarily stop ‘‘subdivision activity” on home construction for two years, meaning that developers could not subdivide property to build more than five homes.

The two-year moratorium would exempt the 3,000 housing units already approved in subdivisions under construction, commercial properties, and residential developments of fewer than five homes.

The county’s 12 municipalities would not be subject to the suspension. Roughly 43 percent of Frederick County’s new home construction is located in municipalities.

Commissioners said that the moratorium is necessary to allow them time to update the 1998 comprehensive plan, a document that outlines the future of housing growth, and change the adequate public facilities ordinance, which ensures that water, sewer, schools and roads can handle the additional homes. Walter Mills, founder of Defenders of Citizens Rights Inc., a Frederick County landowners group, opposes the moratorium and what commissioners choose to call it. ‘‘If you don’t get subdivision approval, you can’t build, and you can’t build if you don’t have a lot,” Mills said. ‘‘Call it whatever you want. It’s a no-growth tool.”

Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins (R) opposes the moratorium because he believes it is unfair to builders who have final approval, but have yet to begin construction.