MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Okay. So here's a question. What happens when everyone wants a piece of that slower paced, small town life we heard about in Martinsburg? Environment reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, drove up to Maryland's outer suburbs in search of answers and he found there's a thin line between growth and sprawl. And in the land of white-picket fences, things can get ugly.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
Frederick County, Md. can be a very scenic place. Rolling mounds of farmland slope into tidy subdivisions, the views of the mountains in the background are gorgeous. It's the reason people move here. Nancy Dunn came here about six years ago.
MS. NANCY DUNN
Yes, my husband works in Bethesda, but we picked here because we wanted more of a neighborhood and we didn't want block after block after block of people. We especially picked here because we like the woods behind us, that's where my son is right now. He's back playing in the woods with the cat.
Land's cheaper, the trees are prettier, but what happens when everyone has that on their wish list?
MR. CASEY FREELIN
The one thing that I've noticed is just kind of getting like the whole cookie-cutter kind of like the stereotypical strip malls.
Casey Freelin's (sp?) family moved here 19 years ago.
I can't even imagine what it's going to be like 20 years from. It's going to be crazy.
Nancy Dunn says if her neighborhood is developed any more, she's out.
Not in my background. Yes, I'm one of those people. So we would move if that happened.
You can see where this is going, right? People move out to get away and then move out to get away from the people who are moving out to get away.
MR. ANDREW RATNER
We, over the last 40 years, have been using up land at three times the rate of population growth. We've used up as much land in 40 years as we used up in the previous 300 years before that.
Andrew Ratner is with the State of Maryland's Department of Planning and he's talking about the whole state, which he says has a sprawl problem and it's expensive, he says.
The impact of sprawl long-term makes all taxpayers pay more to clean up the day or to pay for roads and schools farther and farther out.
Not to mention water, electricity, sewage. So in 2010, Frederick County's planning commission created a 20-year plan and part of that plan was to re-zone pieces of the county, places where it had been okay to do commercial or residential development and say, nope, sorry, it has to be farmland now or otherwise you just can't do what you wanted to do with it. Oscar Fuestra (sp?) owns some of the land that was down-zoned.
MR. OSCAR FUESTRA
Property value potentially went from a couple of million dollars down to maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars.
He says converting the land to farming is not an option.
What are you going to farm on five or six acres in Frederick County? It didn't make any economic sense. Plus, in terms of fairness, it doesn't make any sense.
It's not unconstitutional, but a new crop of county commissioners vowed to redo the 20-year plan entirely. Blaine Young is president of the county's Board of Commissioners.
MR. BLAINE YOUNG
This is about property rights. Many folks got up and said, this was my investment, this is my retirement. It was taken away with the stroke of a pen and I was not compensated in any way, shape or form.
The fight has only escalated. Frederick's planning commission refused to reopen the plan, the county commissioners are trying to redo it anyway and a whole host of groups is suing to stop the commissioners, arguing they don't have the authority to change plans so abruptly. Norman Knopf is representing those groups. He points out that many of those who want to scrap the old plan are developers, some of whom have grievances that long predate the county's down-zoning.
MR. NORMAN KNOPF
What reasonable growth can accommodate is not necessarily what the developer community wants to accommodate because the bigger the development, the more money they can make. Then they leave the development after it's in place and they leave the taxpayer with the infrastructure cost and we've seen it all the time.
Janice Wiles is with Friends of Frederick, one of the plaintiffs.
MS. JANICE WILES
60 percent of our elementary schools had trailers so they were overcrowded. We have $1 billion deficit to bring our roads up to where they should be.
Wiles points out that where the county can't put in sewer lines, septic systems leach nitrogen into waterways. It's one reason the Chesapeake Bay Foundation joined the lawsuit.
People are having a difficult time recognizing that the post-World War II suburbia craze is not necessarily -- wasn't necessarily the best thing for our economic growth.
Redoing the old growth plan could mean 53,000 new homes would be added to Frederick Country by 2030. That's 50 percent more than what the planning department thought the county should absorb. County commissioners say the county can handle it. The planners say that if the roadmap for growth and the county keeps changing every time there's a new set of commissioners, planning will be very difficult. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
Care to weigh in on this debate over how much growth should be allowed in the outer suburbs? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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