Saturday, August 2, 2008

guest blog: patuxent ridge developer responds

Ryan Homes, whose Whitehall Square development in White Oak is pictured above, will be among those building condominiums on a site at old Route 29 and Dustin Road. Developer Tom Norris presented his proposal for Patuxent Ridge to local residents last Wednesday at the Praisner Library, raising concerns about its proximity to the Patuxent Watershed. In response to an earlier guest post by Burtonsville resident Barry Louis Polisar, Norris sent us the following:

I was disappointed to see so much anger and deliberate disinformation displayed at this meeting to discuss a small Senior Housing Project. It was obvious from the start that there was an orchestrated campaign of falsehood and misinformation taking place.

Consequently, as the developer, and a participant at this meeting, it is my responsibility to correct a number of false and misleading statements that have been put forth.

1. The first correction that must be made is the name of the builder; it is Ryan Homes, not Ryland as incorrectly reported.

2. The second error is to pretend that this is a "high density" project when it is not. In 1998, the County Planners recommended approval for 291 units, in three, four story buildings on this same parcel. (Special Exception S-2322). While the County planners made the determination that this site was compatible and necessary, the Board of Appeals did not approve the submission because neither the ICC nor the new Rt. 29 had been funded or finalized as yet.

While 291 units on 10 acres does indeed represent "high density," our proposal of 86 units on the same site cannot possibly be placed in that same category and it is misleading to pretend otherwise. This is NOT a high-density project, especially for 10 acres surrounded by highway on three sides and anchored by two Shopping Centers to the South.

3. Another error promoted at this meeting was to pretend that this project is in an agriculture zone. It is not. The Rural Cluster is a residential zone that is different from the agriculture zone and this fact needs to be honestly acknowledged. It is not a point of debate.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

4. Furthermore, it is not true that this project would harm the watershed, nor open the door to large amounts of future development. This area already has very strict guidelines in place to protect the watershed, and these rules are not mitigated, revised, or removed in any way by the use of Sewer in this area as some claimed.

This is just another dishonest diversion by those who want to stop all development, ignore the shortage of Senior Housing, and allow the County's tax base to erode away. For what purpose?

Moreover, it is a fact that there is very little land left to develop in this area. Why? Because there are so many streams, which are protected by the PMA restrictions that are in place to protect the watershed. This greatly reduces the available land for development.

So here is yet another false argument that must be corrected. There is very little development possible in the Burtonsville area because of the extremely tough environmental regulations. And this project does not change this fact.

5. While some also tried to raise an incompatibility issue, it cannot be denied that this property is surrounded by major highways on three sides, even as there are a number of commercial sites and churches to the West and South, including two large shopping centers. This area north of the Shopping Center is obviously neglected and thus it needs revitalization because the status quo is well below the standards of most other areas in the County.

Moreover, this claim that a 4-story building is too high for the neighborhood is only wishful thinking, as a dispassionate view of the skyline will prove. In fact, abutting this land to the North is a very visible 50' fire tower, which is close to the street and in full view of those on both the old and new 29.

This tower has been there for many years in plain view of the neighborhood. Has anyone complained that it is too high or taken action to remove this tall structure? This tower has become a fixture and a landmark in the community, and thus it is not correct to try and claim that anything as high as 4 stories is not compatible with the neighborhood. That is obviously not the case.

In addition to this tall tower, there is another, even taller structure further south; here is a 60' Communications Tower for all to see. But there is more. This second tower is followed by a number of very high, and very visible towers of gigantic proportions a little more south. Thus, there are a number of 12 story transmission towers that cross both the old and the new 29, behind the shopping center. They are very visible throughout the entire neighborhood.

For anyone to ignore these numerous and very large 12 story towers, along with their accompanying strings of wires in the sky, is utter nonsense. Why pretend that they don't exist, and why ignore the shopping center, with its 4 story office buildings or pretend that this area is not full of many tall towers?

This is not a little county area anymore, and there is no use pretending otherwise in order to push the seniors away from the Eastern part of the County. Don't they have a right to live in the County?

The fact of the matter is that this community is full of tall towers-- all in excess of 4 stories. The Community also contains a pair of 4 story office buildings and a large-4 story Giant Food Store. Such obvious facts disprove this notion of height incompatibility. It was just another excuse to stop any and all development, no matter how necessary or lawful. This is shameful behavior.

If ever there were a site that works for Senior Housing, this would be it. Patuxent Ridge is a low-density, clean and quiet project that would be an asset to any Community or County. The project will also be connected to the Shopping center by a sidewalk, which will give some additional and much needed character to this neglected portion of the neighborhood.

6. While it is true that no one stood up to defend the project at the meeting, it was only because the crowd was so hostile and rude. I am pleased to say that after the meeting numerous people came up to me and apologized for the lack of civility. (Some even called later). A number said they supported the project, but they had no desire to stand up in such a hostile environment and be ridiculed by those with such a rigid and uninformed agenda.

So it is very misleading and false for anyone to write: "None of the local residents attending the meeting voiced approval of these plans." Like so many others things that have been said, this is not true, even though it was unfortunately correct to state that "at times the exchange became a little heated."

In conclusion, the County is falling far behind in Senior Housing. The present situation forces many to move to the adjacent Counties where there are numerous choices available for such Active Adult projects. However, this unnecessary erosion of the tax base will drive up taxes for the rest of us, even as it separates us from those that are forced to retire in other locations outside the County. This makes no sense.

This senior project is low density. It has been reduced from 291 to 86 units. It is compatible with this unique configuration of land that is surrounded by highways on the North, East, and West as well as a Shopping Center to the South. It is a smart use of the little remaining land that is left in this area.

I hope this information will clear up some of the propaganda that has been so irresponsibly promoted by some. It is obvious to many that the Burtonsville area needs to be dramatically improved and rehabilitated, and this small Senior Project is a good start.

Neither the County, nor the Community, should ignore the growing needs of its Senior Citizens. As the Baby Boomers age, they should not be discriminated against, nor pushed out of the Eastern part of the County by those with other agendas. Such action is obviously against public policy as well as common sense and decency.

I think the Burtonsville Community can do better. I think they should do more to encourage Senior Housing, not less.

Thank you for allowing me to correct the record and share my viewpoints.

Tom Norris, Patuxent Ridge LLC
[phone number removed]

If you've got something to say, Just Up The Pike is always looking for guest bloggers. While I don't always agree with the statements made, guest blogs offer an opportunity for all sides to be heard on East County issues. Contact me at danreed at umd dot edu if you're interested in contributing.


Dan Reed said...

Hi, Tom -

First of all, I want apologize for any inaccuracies that may have appeared on the blog here. It's my goal to present the facts accurately and objectively, and I'm glad you offered your own opinion on the issue, as it creates a fuller depiction of what's actually happening.

That being said, while I don't agree with the way some residents may act at public meetings (I wasn't there, so I can't say much about this one) I'm not entirely on board with Patuxent Ridge, either. I am all for development in East County, and I've often bristled at the anti-growth sentiment in Burtonsville. But while you may propose a sidewalk connecting this to the Burtonsville Village Center, but it's still over a half-mile walk away, an unlikely distance for many older citizens to travel - or anyone, really, if they don't have a good reason to.

I would've taken all 291 apartments if they were next to the Giant or even incorporated into that shopping center as a mixed-use development, because it would preserve land AND actually encourage people to walk. Two birds with one stone. You're right in saying Burtonsville's got quite a skyline, which is why I'd put those four-story buildings right where the other four-story buildings are and not half a mile away, where they'd form another little isolated pod of development.

Density can work, but only when it's all together. We've learned in the Briggs Chaney and White Oak areas that you can't just drop apartments anywhere and expect the development to work. You have to do it in a coordinated manner that a) offers legitimate alternatives to driving (if that's one of the goals we're going to pursue) and b) creates a legible "place" and sense of community. If this is going to be Burtonsville Village Center, we're going to put the people where they belong: in the center.

I'm not one of those people who'd say that Burtonsville doesn't need to be changed, and I promise that if I see you at a public meeting, Mr. Norris, I'm not going to throw things at you, either. But I will say I'm not sure if this is an appropriate development for its location, highways and all, and it's also why I asked Barry to write about it.

This is a good discussion to have, and I look forward to continuing it, especially with someone from the development industry.

Unknown said...

First of all, my apologies on misidentifying the name of the builder in my posting on the library meeting last week. Mea culpa.

I've never reported on anything like this before and I tried to paint an accurate picture of what I saw and heard at the meeting. Emotions were heated because this proposed development represents a big change to the neighborhood. The comments I heard voiced were all against this proposal. People had all sorts of questions and concerns and I did not include them all in my summary. I thought the point of the meeting was to present the developer's plan to the community and listen to the community's concerns. I don't know if it is fair for the developer to characterize people's opinions as propaganda; the questions people raised were valid ones.

No one said that seniors don't have a right to live in the County; people were saying that there should not be development in the watershed and this project should be built next to public transportation and sewer lines.....not in RC zoned land.

I was one of the people who introduced myself to the builder and the land planning consultant after their presentations and I personally thanked them both for appearing, recognizing that they stood before a fairly hostile audience. I appreciate their willingness to address the neighbors, but I think the community's concerns were genuine and heart-felt.

As for the density issue, 86 units and 156 parking spaces is certainly less than 291 units, but if there are only 90 homes in the entire corridor between 198 and the Patuxent River now, building 86 units on a 9.5 acre parcel does doubles the density overnight. Many people think this area is already thick with traffic and congestion.

The developer is correct that the property is not in the Agricultural Preserve which is located in Western Montgomery County, but it is in the area that Montgomery County defines as an "agricultural wedge" and is in the Rural Cluster Zone (one house per 5 acres). The property is also in the watershed. I consider building 86 units on a property that is zoned for one home to be high density.

It is unfair to compare the impact of the fire tower with what is being proposed. That tower was there before most of the houses in the area were built, whereas this development is new and will have an impact on the area.

Personally, I am thankful for the streams and creeks that empty into the Patuxent River because, like so many of my neighbors, I live here because of the rural feel this area offers and the green space the watershed was meant to insure. The very fact that this corridor is filled with streams that flow into the Patuxent is why there is a lot of concern from the neighbors....and that concern was voiced repeatedly at the meeting.

I recognize that builders, developers and property owners would like to maximize their profit on their investment, but just because the land is vacant does not make it "neglected" and in "need of revitalization and development."

I would like to ratchet down the name calling and ill will and have an honest and civil discussion about the plans that were presented. The developer has a right to be heard and the neighbors have a right to respond.

Eric Luedtke said...

I tend to agree with Dan, that I'd rather see something like this closer to 'downtown Burtonsville', instead of a zone that, as Barry points out, is supposed to have 1 house on every five acres, except in cluster areas where lots should be no smaller than 40,000 sq. ft.

On another note, it seems to me that implying that the people that disagree with you hate seniors is probably not going to turn the community around on your project.

Thomas Hardman said...

I suspect that a lot of the "community in opposition" is doing the typical MoCo thing of seizing whatever argument seems reasonable and acceptable and offering that, while keeping hidden their real agenda, which is most likely the extremely reasonable goal of doing nothing that will add even more traffic to the intolerable mess that is MD-198 west of US-29.

Everyone knows that the entirely rational argument of "it will add to the already intolerable traffic" is always shot down in County Council with a raft of non-sequitur statements delivered as a parting shot after comments and input from the public is closed. We the People have finally learned that you can't argue a project on the merits (or demerits) once the fix is in. You have to offer a totally compelling argument on a line of reasoning for which the Powers-That-Be haven't already developed a slough of irrationality as rebuttal delivered as closing arguments before a rubber-stamp judge in a kangaroo court. So We the People simply appear in full force and exude an implacable hostility in the face of people who in any case are very likely to do whatever they want regardless of our opinion. Let the record show that We the People were opposed and our arguments were mostly sound, even if coming from farther out of left field than will be the post-comment-period rationalizations and dismissals by the developer tools sitting on the Planning Board and County Council. There's just no point in debating with the mad, all you can do is make sure they know how you feel. I think that message was conveyed.

But to digress from the clear sanity of rebutting madness with insanity -- if it takes a thief to catch a thief, it takes a posse of the outraged to debate a clique of conspirational paranoids -- let's take a break and just deal with the facts as if we had some sense. Fact is, you can't do anything that adds any more traffic to Burtonsville. Accept that and all other things follow in train. Fact is, you just can't build anything at all that drains into the Patuxent unless you want to taste it in your tap water for the next 50 years or more. Fact is, this development serves a worthy cause and satisfies a desperate need, but not on that site. That's all.