Sunday, March 04, 2007

Everything was there except I noticed that it didn't look as big...

Google won't help with that one.

If you haven't noticed (or cared to notice), I've taken to titling posts with song lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics are germane to the subject I'm writing about; sometimes not so much. There's no particular reason I started doing this, but now it's the thing I do, so no turning back now, I guess. Think of it as a way to gain insight into my personality, without having to read through boring personal anecdotes about my life.

Speaking of anecdotes...

The Husky and I decided to go for a jaunt in the woods yesterday. It was nice -- thanks for asking.

On our way back, we drove up Ilchester Road in Ellicott City, which wasn't so nice. Ilchester, as many of you know, follows a tributary of the Patapsco River north from Route 103 to an old, burned-out mill and this new pedestrian bridge.

Very nice!

(The Husky isn't much of a fan of this or the other bridge near the Avalon section of Patapsco -- he's not so sure about all the swinging.)

Anyway, on our way back towards Route 103, I noticed an alarming proliferation of fairly-new houses cropping up along Ilchester Road. And though it may come as a surprise to some, seeing this type of development makes my blood boil.

I understand and respect property rights as much as the next market-loving capitalist, and I also love nature as much as the next tree-spiking hippy. But, what I don't understand is why we continue to allow McMansions in places where they are totally out of place and can inflict significant harm to sensitive environmental areas -- for instance, riparian zones -- while places where development is entirely appropriate -- say, parking lots in Town Center -- are growth battle zones. I know there are many, many issues tied up in the Town Center debate and that growth battle zones exist all over the county, but I'm overlooking all that here to highlight the belief, held by at least a few, that growth is growth is growth. Really, it's not.

Given my contradictory (to some) love of markets and nature, creating a program where development rights can be transferred from bad places to good places seems almost too sensible. And it must be, because I almost never hear anyone talk about it.

A few quick thoughts about how it would work: Landowners with existing development rights could sell these rights (thus preserving the value of their land while leaving it undeveloped) to landowners in approved areas who currently lack residential development rights. With such a market, all the goodness of supply and demand would take over and we're (theoretically) left with an optimum outcome.

The approved areas would most likely be Town Center and along Route 1. Units probably would not be sold one-for-one, as a single development unit in the rural west is entirely different from a single unit in Town Center. I would still give the new Town Center a baseline set of residential units to start with. After all, the community art, plazas and other amenities won't pay for themselves, and forcing General Growth to buy development rights cuts into this pool of money.

I've mentioned this before with respect to Doughoregan (what's going on with that, by the way?). Of course, there are myriad issues that would have to be worked out and resistance is likely from numerous fronts. None of this, however, should preclude us from trying or at least discussing it, right?


Anonymous said...

But at least there are plenty of plastic signs directing people to the new houses!

You can't fight real estate developers. They have too much clout.

Paul Simon Hater said...

Anon 6:15: It is not the real estate developers who would fight a market system of allocating development rights. Quite the contrary, I believe they would support it. The ones who will fight it is the government. You get what you reward, and right now we are rewarding sprawl in a myriad of ways.

I think I may be familiar with the song lyric in this post. I think I may have heard this song performed live, but I was in a drunken stupor so I can’t be positive. I think a censored version of another line in the song goes something like: “I woke up in the middle of some messed up dream”. Is that it? I wish that band would put out a live album!

pzguru said...

Why is sprawl bandied about like it's somthing evil. Should everyone be required to live in a city? Isn't it ok to let people decide if they want to live in the evil "suburbs"?

I think that allowing transferrable development rights in zoning districts other than RC and RR could have some potential. It could get very complicated though if the system involves valuation calculations between a development right in one zone versus another zone. And, how much benefit would there be (ie: land preserved) when most of the land in the "east" has already been developed? Too early to say.

Anonymous said...

"as the next tree-spiking hippy"?

Far, far more hippies hug them then spike them. You've got to let love rule.

You better believe riparian zones need more protection. Our current development buffer protection regulations are far too narrow to protect the roam ranges of the many kinds of animals that depend on these riparian zones for their survival. Our development regulations protecting these areas have too many loopholes. Our enforcement of those regulations is less than perfect. And regulation changes of the not-too-distant past allowed building even more densely adjacent to these areas by allowing smaller lot sizes by taking such non-developable areas within the same development as creditable open space areas. All of these shortcomings can and should rightly be addressed even without pursuing development credit shifting.

Any effort to shift development away from these critical and sensitive areas should be explored, but development credit shifting would be pretty much dependent on individual owners of such areas accepting payments from developers of upland areas for density credits, providing haphazard results.

If the proposals for denser Town Center development were truly limited to just parking lots, I doubt it would be the growth battle zone you described. But it's not - it's development ranging from a bus depot in a riparian zone, to losing greenspace along Little Patuxent Parkway, to cutting down trees in Symphony Woods to build buildings, to replacing replacing natural woods ground cover with paved surfaces, fountains, and an ice rink only used a small portion of the year, to Charette maps that show a Metro line hugging a river and transgressing in stream and wetlands buffers, to a road running from Toby's to the Rouse building possibly also in a riparian zone, to further expansion of South Entrance Road where it crosses the Little Patuxent River.

numbers.girl said...

I'm going to have to find out how to get to that bridge. The area looks like a great place for geocaching. I'll put that on the list of things to do when I'm back on my feet.

Anonymous said...

Doughregan Manor. Anyone recall Alec MacGillis' Sun piece on that a few years back?

I recall a meeting years ago, Feaga, Merdon, and the West County developer were in attendance. About Doughregan, someone said, "it's 2,500 acres, big enough for another Columbia". The developer exchanged knowing smiles with his colleague. Residents shrugged it off, as if we'd have any input or 'say' over what was to come.


"They called him Moshe the beadle..."

and song:

"You gonna pay, you gonna pay tomorrow. Don't let me sail with that ship of fools."

Anonymous said...


I left the meeting and walked through the dark rainy night to my car knowing I had to somehow find the energy to complete the day’s responsibilities. I already knew what the new residents would only belatedly discover; our sanctuary was going to change dramatically and there was no fairness that could be injected into the outcome. It had been decided by a few men who concocted a toxic mixture of patriotism and capitalism to put profit above all else.

I drove through my street, approaching the driveway while the meeting contents replayed involuntarily and circuitously in my mind, each time ending without resolution, prompting a restart. The car swerved smoothly into the well-worn path home but peace had been replaced with unproductive discomfort, the knowledge of what was to come.

Then, on arriving home I saw..

(next installment forthcoming)

jim adams said...

Anon 8:08, please continue.

Anonymous said...

paul simon hater....

I think you have the song lyric incorrect. I dont remember the line "I woke up in the middle of some messed up dream" from the song hayduke is quoting. But, I cant be too sure cause its been a while since i listened to that tape (yes, its only available on tape)

Anonymous said...

Fiction installment #2:

As I walked to the back of the house, I noticed a piece of paper stuck in the outer door, flapping in the wind and damp from rain. For years I hadn’t retrieved the mail on time, and now people were likely trying to contact me more effectively. After getting inside and removing my dripping coat and boots, I read the handwritten words, “Ms. O’Clair, I’ve been trying to catch you but have been unable to meet you at home. Please call me at your convenience at the above number. “ The note was written on Barren Development Company letterhead, and signed by Harry Black, a local land developer who’d recently purchased several large tracts to the east.

Development was moving westward like a virus. Permanent changes, people living too close for comfort or grace, never understanding why they felt so impatient. Ancestors of farmers living like city-folk, caring more about current social pressure than subtle but insistent direction and guidance from heredity. Breaking from the natural bent exacerbated their impatience as residents lived in an undercurrent of continual conflict.

What was this note about? What was on my very doorstep?

This note signaled the end to my one year of peace, and the beginning of the developing war.

(next installment forthcoming)

jim adams said...

anon 6:21 keep going