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The Huge Costs of Development

I thought I had seen more than enough a decade ago or so when I was still involved with local government in Mount Airy. Developers and their attorneys, consultants, engineers pick away at the fabric and soul of a community until there is very little left. I was fortunate to have served for 24 years as an elected official with only minimal scarring. But in recent times the stakes and urban brutality have gone up a notch or two. The Kaz Brothers originally wanted over 700 tightly packed houses in the heart of our Town, later dropped to over 500 units. There was an enormous public outcry and was covered in a June 2nd News Post article. This was on the Beck Property of 80 acres. Many, if not most, of the same themes against this proposed development as expressed in the News Post article--over density, over-emphasis on residential and not enough of Commercial--still exist, but there is a new Developer, Pleasants Properties and another problem, inadequate water supply. I got involved within a year ago because of high density "overgrowth" in our Town, specifically on the Beck Property, Greentree, and similar developments in Mount Airy. I am an engineer by profession with a lot of environmental and planning practice, and with that and with my years of municipal service under my belt in various capacities, I am able to catch things that most folks would miss. The citizens group that was formed in the spring invited me to be a member, and they really appreciate my insights. The Town--and since I left the Council--has changed the requirements for supplying water capacity to be after the fact versus providing water "up front" in order to placate the original Developer, Kaz Brothers, so that they could develop "mixed use" Zoning. Previous to the special exception to allow Kaz Brothers to adopt the zoning, the Town Code required a well to be tested and reviewed by the Town Engineer for adequacy. MXD Zoning as recently adopted by the Town now requires this only after the Planning is done and at a point where there is no way to correct the mis-fit between water required and water available. On the surface, this might have seemed like a good idea when MXD was being developed, but in practice it hasn't worked. The Beck property was a priority project of the (volunteer) Planning Commission for almost a decade, and they do not seem to want to let the project die, despite the possibility of an inadequate water supply, the negative changing character of the Town and a fierce public outcry. The Planning Commission did not support a Council Proposed Ordinance (2022-25) that would have mandated additional land dedicated to water recharge via adding Parks and at the same time lowered the allowable density to provide a much higher assurance of an adequate water capacity. The mostly newcomer Town Council is in a box because they don't want a legal hassle to tear apart the Town, but they hear all of the complaints from residents. We are also to some extent at odds with the Maryland Department of the Environment Water Resources Allocation Department, with whom I spoke with several times. I worked with MDE in the drought of 2005/6 and am familiar with the staff and their methods. They have fairly high standards on what would be an acceptable basis to apply for a well, which can take up to 18 months to review. They don't want to waste time on situations where the likely water allocation will fall short of the need. An independent engineering assessment I performed for the citizens group says there is a very small probability of finding sufficient on-site water to support the number of houses the current developer is asking for on the Beck site, and surely MDE would not approve the appropriations. There then would be a misfit between approvals of houses and no water with no way to make the correction. Elected officials will come and go, serve one or two terms, get voted out or driven out of office, and the "weebies" (we be here when you come, and we be here when you go) apparently are in for a big windfall. Welcome to Urbana, Gaithersburg, Monrovia, and New Market, I guess. I hope this at least lets people know what's going on and possibly re-energize enough of them to slow it down or stop it. But it's hard because the developers have most of the money and know how to use it effectively.


Dave Pyatt

Mount Airy

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