Monday, May 15, 2006

From caterpillar to butterfly...

At least that’s what planners think will be happening over the next several years along Route 1.

“Route 1 is the answer to the question, ‘Where do we grow from here?’ ” said Dick Story, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

…Because growth pressure is mounting as available land wanes, the Department of Planning and Zoning is focusing its attention on areas of the county that already have been developed.

The department predicts Route 1 will mature into a livelier county player in the next two to three decades.

“Rather than slamming into a wall and stopping, let’s coast to 2020 and phase in the build-out of Howard County,” Story said.

The Route 1 area is more desirable than the open areas in the western part of the county because prices are lower, and it flows off county water and sewer lines.

“You cluster your density in places you’ve planned for it, with roads, water, sewer, and schools in that community,” Story said.
Story is right on the money. It boggles the mind why we still see so much development in the exurban west (it no longer qualifies as “rural”) when it is on so many levels such an innefficent way to deal with the inevitable, growth.

Would you rather see the fields and pastures disappear – and traffic, environmental degradation, and the cost of services increase – for the sake of surface parking and downtown highways?


Anonymous said...

You so fell for it. "You cluster your density in places you've planned for it, with roads, water, sewer and schools in that community". It sounds GREAT... in reality- the Route 1 corridor is already overburdened with traffic and its schools are overcrowded. Dick Story tells a good story- but the reality is... we haven't PLANNED a thing... and any growth beyond what the General Plan 2000 calls for- is growth beyond what the infrastructure can stand- and beyond what the public agreed to. We do not have the waste water treatment capacity... we do not have the road improvements and we sure as heck don't have the schools to support the growth included in comp lite... Here's the catch phrase we need to throw back when folks start talking about "smart growth" and concentrating growth within planned service areas... "SHOW ME THE MONEY". Get the money to improve the infrastructure and THEN add the growth. Now that's PLANNING.

Anonymous said...

Over the past 55 years, Howard County's population has grown 1200%, from 23,000 to 270,000.

During the same 55 year period, Baltimore City's population has declined 33%, from 950,000 to 636,000.

Wouldn't truly smart growth put redevelopment efforts in Baltimore City? Last time I heard, 10% of Baltimore City's housing stock is vacant and infrastructure is obviously already in place.

Maybe we should take a breather from such rapid growth and maybe take a lesson by looking at Montgomery County's foibles. They grew a whopping 790,000, from 160,000 in 1950 to 950,000 in 2005. Isn't it fun trying to get from point A to point B in Montgomery County nowadays? Just wait to see what the InterCounty Connector will do for I-95 congestion.

The first commenter was right - get the infrastructure right first.

Anonymous said...

Myth #1 : Zero growth equals a stagnet economy.

Myth #2: Commercial development pays for itself

Myth #3: Revitalization must include intensive growth

Myth #4: Perhaps the biggest myth of all- the development and business community- aka the "Economic Development Authority" knows what is best when it comes to planning and zoning

Hayduke said...

Wow! I don't think I've ever had this much reaction in such a short time for a single post. Thanks to all for commenting, and here are my responses:

Anon1: I really don't think I fell for anything. I was agreeing with Story that -- given the inevitability of growth -- it's better to develop in already-developed areas, where infrastructure exists or can be expanded more cheaply, than in undeveloped areas. I wasn't advocating additional growth. Rather, I'm focused on targeting it to appropriate areas.

With respect to planning, I don't know how you can assume that none of this is planned. Go to DPZ's website and take a look at the Rt. 1 revitalization page and the General Plan, both of which outline development and planning for this area of the county.

Finally, what is your proposal for infrastructure improvements. Should we forward fund these using our existing tax base? Or should we pay for them as new development comes on line? Is it fair to make existing taxpayers foot the bill for infrastructure meant to accomodate new residents? To be sure, we shouldn't allow our infrastructure to fall apart with new growth, but increasing its capacity beyond what is needed in anticipation of new growth, which is highly dependent on the market and current landowners' wishes, doesn't strike me as good fiscal management.

Anon2: The numbers you present are indeed striking, but they don't really tell us anything. The average rate of annual growth over that time was about 4.6%, but in the 1990s we grew at a rate of 2.8% per year and since 2000 the rate has been around 1.85% annually (these figures were derived from census data). Not really rapid, if you ask me.

As for Baltimore, there is surely a need to revitalize many parts of the city and, accordingly, people are working on it. But the arguement that we should focus all regional growth in Baltimore is a red herring. BRAC will not impact the City in any way comparable to how it impacts our county. Moreover, growth will continue here as long as people and companies want to move here (and landowners want to make cash in).

Anon3: I can't really respond to unsubstantiated claims. I'll agree, however, that the laws of thermodynamics prevent us from having a continously growing economy. If you've got any suggestions for how we should transition to a steady-state economy, I would be glad to here them (and I'll probably support them). But since that transition will only occur with the help of macroeconomic changes, I'm not sure how we'll address it in Howard County.

Finally, because it should be repeated, I'm not advocating for more growth. I'm advocating for ways to mitigate the impacts of the inevitable. If you say the infrastructure along Rt. 1 is insufficient to absorb additional growth, then tell me where we should put it and how the infrastructure would be more sufficient there. And you can't say that we should not grow, because we can't, unless you think the county should use its powers of eminent domain to take all of the rights of property owners away.

Anonymous said...

Anon2 here -
I'm trying to use those numbers ((23,000*1.046^40)*1.028^10)*1.0185^6 , but I'm winding up with only 205,000, not 270,000. Unless my left brain is failing me this evening, some of these growth rates must have been higher.

What the numbers tell us -
Anyway, I provided the numbers to provide some longer term perspective on just how much growth Howard County has borne, to invite looking at Montgomery County's woes as a result of its humongous growth, and to illuminate Baltimore's additional capacity. To me, the growth has been rapid when measured with daily things - overcrowded schools, overcrowded roads, demand for housing outpacing supply which has pushed housing prices up, loss of considerable wildlife and habitat.

You are right that growth will continue here as long as people and companies want to move in, but it seemed like the original bent of this thread was your assertion that the exurban west should be preserved by focusing development efforts on Route 1. (DP&Z has somewhat similar plans for Route 40, too.) Having lived many places, I can say I don't think it's too likely a large portion of the demographic interested in living in the exurban west will instead choose to reside along an even more dense Route 1. My impression of the transportation-oriented development planned for Route 1 Revitalization is that it will produce a lot of $250k-$400k residences and few, if any, $600k+ McMansions currently sought in the west. So, Route 1's planned changes will address some demand for growth, but I'm not optimistic that it will take pressure off the west.

I'm not saying don't grow, but we can and should choose the rate at which and ways we do grow. The rate at which we've grown in the recent past cannot and should not be maintained ad infinitum. Smart growth, zoning laws, housing permit allocations, adequate public facilities ordinances, and impact fees are all currently used in this region to control growth.

No one is saying Howard County will absorb 100% of the BRAC-related growth at three Maryland facilities. With a good public transit infrastructure, why couldn't Baltimore City provide considerable capacity for BRAC growth, especially since it is midway between the two largest MD BRAC-growing facilities and has vacant housing stock?

Hayduke said...

I wish I had time to write the full response I had planned, but I'm off to go to band practice in Annapolis. So it will have to wait.

The 4.6% growth rate was calculated for the entire 1950 - 2005 time period. The other growth rates were for those specific decades and are included in the overall 4.6%. Here's a quick rundown of the rates I calculated for each decade since 1950.

1950 - 1960: 4.57%
1960 - 1970: 5.53%
1970 - 1980: 6.71%
1980 - 1990: 4.68%
1990 - 2000: 2.84%
2000 - 2005: 1.85%

As for consumer preferences about housing types, I'd point to Maple Lawn as a model for what homes wealthy, McMansion-types are interested in nowadays. That is, big houses, but smaller yards and communities that are closer to transportation, commercial areas, and other more urban stuff. To be sure, some still want the large lawns and "seclusion" that comes with exurban life, but we'll always have plenty of those houses.

Here's a pretty good article I found today about the changing model of residential development. This trend, I think, makes Rt. 1 even more appropriate for development of all kinds. Also noteworthy in that story is how similar these new consumer preferences are to what we've always done in Columbia. Too bad it's taken everyone else 40 years to catch up.

Hayduke said...

Whoops, the link didn't work. Let's try again.

Click here for story.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that is a pretty good article, but, as you noted, it sounds like Columbia-like development (nowhere near as much like the Route 1 plan).

"An example of how the suburbs are changing is the Celedon community in Beaufort, S.C. The 150-homesite community provides generous green space throughout the development. All homes are within walking distance to the village center, which is home to a Montessori school, coffee shop, post office and other services. A winding trail leads residents to three wildlife lagoons or back to their home."

To have a community like this, the area Maple Lawn has works. But, along Route 1, the only area that seems like such a community could well fit would be near Guilford Road.

So, I'm still skeptical about Route 1 taking much of the heat off the western part of the County.