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August 30, 2005
by Jack Lynch
There is a new cynicism in town in Frederick politics, and it goes by the name of Democrat, but is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You had to take notice when the builders and developers announced that they were searching for candidates to promote their agenda. Then you had to take notice again when Bev Shelton announced her candidacy for Alderman.
In as astounding a proclamation as any Clinton prevarication, Shelton immediately declared that you’d be wrong if you expected her to always side with the builders and developers. C’mon Bev, what do you take us for? I suppose that you’ll object anytime a builder or developer attempts to proffer enough to be considered as taking into account the public good?
For Bev Shelton is the stealth candidate. She has flown beneath the radar of most of the public and the venerable News-Post with their pithy candidate polls of softball questions. But a few of us recall the past that she does not address.
Back in 2001, the builder and developer clique of Frederick County attempted to buy a public perception of legitimacy for their claims of ‘property rights’ by financing a group called ‘Defenders of Property Rights’ locally.
It was a shill for developer interests, fully funded by them, and it’s one clear public perception was that they held a great ‘free for all’ meal out at the Lynfield complex, and claimed that the five hundred or (supposed count) so men, women and children who showed up for the free eats and political stumpery were physical, bodily manifestations of staunch support for the ‘threatened’ property rights. I suppose that makes the soup kitchen line proof of defenders of personal freedom and independence. Ah, to long for the days past of plain old liquor as the lubricant of politics!
And indeed, a certain inbred crowd of farm interests, looking off down retirement road to Florida, was miffed, and claiming to be stiffed; for having bought farmland at a hundred dollars an acre, they felt fully justified to discover that it was likely developable and today worth ten to a hundred thousand dollars an acre. And tomorrow they’ll bemoan that their sons and daughters cannot farm for they cannot buy land and profit from it at these prices. Ah, but the agrarian version of Oedipus plays itself out again, does it not?
So those rights were supposedly being stolen by Frederick County, which attempted to declare any land uses along Route 15 North, other than maintaining the quality of life that exited there, null and void.
Why can we not conceive that what is portrayed as downzoning of land may indeed be part and parcel of protection and preservation? It happens when parks are created, such as Shenandoah on a major scale, and county regional parks on a smaller scale. Does anyone think that should not occur? If a farm can become a housing tract, then why can it not also become a forest?
And all was not lost, a few of us went on and defended the Route 15 corridor and actually convinced the Commissioners that it was valuable and business friendly in greater preservation, a Scenic Byway even; and today, there are new calls nationally from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to further defend a multi-state corridor, including our own stretch of Route 15 as the cradle of American life and political government.
The Defenders are hopefully but one more chapter alongside the alienists and seditionists who cried out for a rope, and hunted communists in government. But a small cell of them remains in Lewisburg, and efforts continue to drop a package sewer plant on that place and allow a few so called ‘Defenders’ to profit handsomely by undercutting the county planning for the area.
Overall, the staunch Defenders wanted to sell to the highest bidder, regardless of water and sewer issues, regardless of open space, or viewshed, or historical features, regardless of true farm interests in conservation and contiguous parcels of lands, declaring them to be null and void, a utopian vision unattainable under current county planning and in defiance of common sense. The Defenders roared to the county: pure popery!
One must admire Commissioner Thompson for calling their bluff in his own indomitable way, both with his talk of them wanting ‘to pave everything from the mouth of the Monocacy river to the Mason-Dixon line’, and also legally challenging their tax status and political contributions. The bull riders were shown to have gone off without their chaps on, and quickly cleaned up their act before the law found them out.
Partly in response, the Defenders hired Bev Shelton, and went underground. What little was heard from them, until their apparent death, was a few overblown newspaper quotes and some bluff and blunder. Yet while Thompson won on meager funds and his motto: If the Developers Win, you Lose!, the Defender candidates, including Cady with forty thousand dollars of support from developer interests, along with Lovell and Reeder, went on to win, and dominate, by three to two votes, the Board of County Commissioners.
These tensions continue to play themselves out today, five years later, and will do so through the 2006 county elections. It shows in the highly public and embarrassing battle over the New Market regional plan, and the Planning Commission’s fealty to Cady and the growth mongers.
So if you ever need a list of every developer in town, drop by Bev Shelton’s campaign contribution list for her Frederick City Aldermanic run. (Shelton.pdf from the News-Post)
Now Bev, having worked with developers, cozy with developers, lives herself on a street of nice older homes with good sized yards, not quite like Clark Place homes, but substantial Cape Cods of brick with big trees around them. The sort of older home many of us grew up in, with enough yard for a child to really get out and play in, or the owner to have a small garden. Nothing like the average townhouse her developer friends have provided you and I, on a tenth acre with an ornamental cherry tree.
The question I’d like to ask Shelton is…how would you feel if a developer bought the house next to yours to tear down and build either a mini-mansion nearly up to the lot lines, or a row of townhouses perpendicular to your home on that one lot? Or an apartment, or condo building? What if development impacted you in the way you would allow it to impact others? What if a newly defined class of ‘neighborhood business’ from the City’s new Land Management Code, as amended by the Republican Board of Aldermen, was put down next to your home?
What indeed, are your property rights, Madame?
There are those who credit her long tenure in Frederick and her charitable causes. We can only hope that these mitigations of her affiliations will continue, and that they will inform and reform her business pursuits. Just let it happen in another sphere of public life than political leadership.
If Ms. Shelton has honest beliefs on growth and development that mirror her affiliations, then let her declare them and do so with pride and passion, that, even in disagreement, we can respect.
Whatever else Ms. Shelton may be, she clearly appears to be in the pockets of developers. That she has kept silent about her real interests is telling, it is damning in fact. I like my stealth on American planes in battle, not when someone wants to dishonestly broker my interests in the City where I live, and the one that I love.