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Countering Alderman Imhoff's Growth Beliefs
February 6, 2008
by Jack Lynch
Mr. Imhoff of the City of Frederick’s Board of Aldermen has done us all a real public service in expressing so well the many fundamental beliefs that drive his pro-development agenda – we would do well to note it now, as he would seem to have an eye on the position of Mayor of the City. For him, slowing growth represents an issue of costs and lost revenue.
For me, a more fundamental question is: Can the government afford to keep building in the manner in which it has, with growth problems growing exponentially and their costs increasingly imposing an undue burden on local taxpayers, in addition to the quality of life issues. Obviously, business as usual will not serve the public interest.
Mr. Imhoff’s fundamental concept on the impact of new housing is slanted towards the benefits of development. I would rather view it from the impacts on existing home values and the economic effects of continuing to build during a down market when existing home values are declining. It is difficult to moan the average value loss of 2.6% on new homes when existing homes resale value is down about 10% and potentially in danger of falling further.
While the reality of the market signals a need to pull back from growth projections, most local government does not recognize anything beyond forwarding growth models far into the future, the myopia of planning has certainly colored everything Mr. Imhoff sees in his role in Frederick City. To make a fiscal cost case, you cannot assume that all fees and receipts equal a net profit on government services, that’s just sheer voodoo development think straight from the newsletters of the growth machine!
Imhoff’s projected ‘losses’ of property and income taxes likely mean little in the scheme of things, because they actually represent liabilities on public infrastructure and services. The impact fees showing a potential decline actually represent a positive impact on long term costs and debt, for they do not pay their way, they exact leveraged costs against the full tax base. We will not be making up the difference in lost taxes, but rather enjoying the benefits of the decreasing demands upon our resources if additional new homes are not built at an overall revenue loss for taxpayers.
The building industry is spread across a much larger universe of investment than any single county, and a temporary slowdown here is but a blip on their radar screen. The effect is further decreased because much of the land acquisition is actually leveraged by contract purchase, not owned and sitting idle as a cost loss to builders or developers. The current chilling economic effects are so great right now that the county moratorium may actually represent some relief from the unrealistic timelines of bringing homes to market when product is idle inventory.
There is much give in the numbers, and to force them forward at breakneck speed is like driving without brakes, eventually you won’t be able to avoid a ditch and a crash will follow, pedal to the metal is not the cautious and deliberate growth model that the financial markets favor and which local government can manage to support with infrastructure and services.
Imhoff projects 1,179 housing units a year, my own investigation suggests a five year average of only 1,032 as of 2006 figures, less since then, quickly the numbers decline by 14%. Not an exact science.
I’m not even going to credential Imhoff’s numbers on ‘potential lost revenue’ any further, the real ‘soft’ cost of development are hidden in commuting times and fuel costs to the public, overcrowded schools costing educational deficits, and the perception of loss of quality of life as rural view sheds vanish to strings of boxy domiciles. Environmental costs are seldom looked at by the builders and planners, they are hardly even mitigated.
The real multiplier effect is in the negative impacts of building water and sewer pipes, waste to energy facilities or landfills, and providing health and public safety costs. Only two years of moratoria will not erase those unpaid demands of the past thirty years of unbridled growth and its demands upon our revenues, our lands, and our very spirits.
We would be served better by leaders who envision a holistic approach to growth and development, ones who value green space and municipal growth within existing borders, as Imhoff plans adding 1,200 acres to Frederick City and drawing a line between Thurmont and the city as the future growth boundaries for each with future annexations, the potential for 7,000 new homes within the current city infrastructure is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.
Mr. Imhoff ignores it.
His old school of growth is just the curmudgeon of poor planning and a false belief in progress. In the monasteries of the growth machine, all hum the chants of residential relief from increasing taxes, but no god appears to grant their wishes.
Now he would even pick on the jobs of those public servants who attempt to steer the machine as it careens out of control without any brakes?
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