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Jack Lynch, Editor
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Jack Lynch, Editor
February 8, 2005
Washington area planners and governmental officials recently met to play out scenarios for the addition of 2 Million more people to the Washington area's existing 6 Million inhabitants. Unfortunately, no one from Frederick County or City attended, for there may have been important lessons to be learned there.
Politicos and planners staged their growth models on the tabletop around mass transit and higher densities in existing urban locations, and the builders and developers in attendance scoffed at the thought that the public would buy into these schemes, given current objections to similar proposals in the region. In case you haven't noticed, one of these proposals around a mass transit station envisions replacing forty year old single family homes with twelve story high rises, with four hundred thousand dollar condos inside. You can bet that the manager of the Starbucks downstairs won't be living in the building.
There was a great disconnect from ideal and reality present in the dreams of planners and leaders, versus the on the ground awareness of reality by the industry. It's one of the great lessons of why so many times our civic goals go wrong. Action is not connected to vision. Exceptional thinking takes flight and promptly crashes into the parking lot. Just consider a wreck on a highway, do the advanced laws of Einsteinium relativity apply, or the old Newtonian physics?
Much the same can be said for the new proposed City of Frederick concept of land use, which includes a lofty vision of 'mixed use' as a land use category. A large area of land just North of Route 26, surrounding the State Farm building, is slated to be zoned mixed use. What it is supposed to mean is a mixture of homes and supporting businesses, the kind of mixed use one finds in an old downtown, where you are supposed to be able to walk to a general store for milk and bread rather than drive to the Wal-Mart or grocery.
It is sadly, one of those misty eyed misnomers of planning. It won't work, and it won't happen. In fact, it sets up the area for failure and eventual rezoning to allow general commercial development.
Take for example, the development just across the street, another one of those failed lofty visions of mixed use, Wormans Mill. Here among an increasing number of homes and set amongst high income residents, is supposed to be a vision of a walking community where one can purchase necessities at local shops. There are no commercial stores in the allotted spaces, and the residents all drive down to new Wal-Mart and the new Giant. Soon enough, they'll likely see big box stores across the street in the mixed use defined area.
I give it ten years out of a twenty year plan, at best. There have already been efforts to rezone the area away from office park designations to commercial.
In ten years, nothing will have resulted except we'll have another Trak Auto and Crown Books and a mattress discounter. Our beloved Monocacy Boulevard will be widened, lose many of its beautiful street trees and be further oppressed by vehicular traffic. We'll see more strewn trash and be talking about building sound barriers!
Just consider that Monocacy Boulevard south of Route 26 and the river are also designated mixed use, and all we see there are flex buildings, large commercial property plans and a proposed hotel.
Unfortunately, the auto and the parking lot define our development. Store sizes and economic models have grown to depend on ever greater customer market areas and volumes. Unfortunately, as Jim Rouse proved in Columbia, you can build strip malls and cosmopolitan slums of old housing stock, even if you've left the farm and you've seen Paris. Short of gas rationing and an economic depression, we're voting for this type of development with our 2.5 per family SUV's.
And those starry eyed government planners ultimately give in; they cave to the need for tax base and their given mission to assist the property owner in developing their land in the manner that best suits them, which is an economic proposition, not a civic good. In fact, thatís the lesson, that civic good is seldom achieved except by government fiat. Our developers will offer us school buildings to meet their obligations and allow their business propositions to succeed, but probably won't ever donate a forest tract to us just as a public gesture of investing in the community. If we want a park with trees, either we must demand it by code of the developer of the hundred acres surrounding it, or we must purchase and build it with public funds.
Mixed Use means piecemeal development. It means mixed up development. It means failure. It means that reality trumps vision. It means that the North end of Frederick will be ruined in the way that Routes 85 and 355 have been ruined by overwhelming curb cut development in a rapacious and piecemeal fashion.