Wednesday, May 20, 2009

rochester responds to monday's post

The following is a response from Stuart Rochester, chair of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, to Monday's post about the Fairland Park development in Burtonsville. As always, I want to encourage discussion about the issues affecting East County and invite anyone with something to say to speak their mind here.

Dan: I was not able to get into your blog or I would have posted this directly.

It continues to disappoint me that someone with your enormous ability and knowledge continues to allow a jaundiced view of the East County to interfere with fair and accurate reporting of important stories. As usual, you are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. "Civic activists" did not "rewrite the local Master Plan" to favor the development of single-family homes at Fairland Park.

The master plan committee was composed of residents and other stakeholders from every part of the planning area, including ministers and affordable housing advocates, ALL of whom agreed on the need to balance the housing envelope and demographics to create healthy, diversified, sustainable communities where citizens want to put down roots and stay rather than move to Howard County or elsewhere. The concern of blacks, whites, and all those committed to staying and building a strong community in the Fairland planning area was to remedy the TRANSIENCY that has affected our schools and neighborhoods as a result of the overconcentration of rental properties resulting from the previous master plan.

You are so cynical of motives, Dan, you read some kind of "code" into every action and demonize those concerned citizens as trying to keep "undesirables" out when the situation is so much more complex.

Moreover, you are are dead wrong that the number of MPDUs has been reduced at Fairland Park. The number is not one less than required under County regulations. The purpose of the waiver, which has been recommended by every planner and official in the County who has bothered to read the Fairland master plan, has been to discourage the addition of market-rate townhouses which have so often been converted to rentals in Fairland and Burtonsville; if you do not understand this, Dan, and it does not concern you from the standpoint of school transiency and other factors, you are into denial or blinded by your own prejudice.

Go to Greencastle Lakes, to Blackburn Village, etc. and talk to TOWNHOUSE owners there as to THEIR upset over the deterioration of their neighborhoods because of the excessive number of rentals even of market-rate units as the original owners leave the area. Before you go self-righteous, the majority of renters are fine people and good neighbors, but common sense tells you that as a percentage they do not have the same stake and interest long-term in their properties or schools. THIS IS NOT AN INDICTMENT OF THEM, DAN, BUT RATHER HUMAN NATURE!!!!

YOU are the one obsessed with talk of "property values." No such mention was ever made in testimony or correspondence. We are talking about well-being, Dan, for ALL of us.

I would appreciate your publishing this response if that is possible.

Stuart Rochester
Chair, Fairland Master Plan Committee


Thomas Hardman said...

Stuart is right to point out the glaring problem of transiency, especially in the schools.

In Aspen Hill, we're generally fairly lucky in that most of the "heavy churn" communities such as the apartment/condo/townhomes cluster in the vicinity of Georgia and Connecticut Avenues and along Hewitt Avenue and Bel Pre Road at least all feed into the same high-school and most into the same middle-school. But you have to keep in mind that people are most likely to be changing residences most often when they are younger, and if they are parents, when their children are youngest. And of course, there are a lot of places here where you can move a block and your kid has to switch elementary schools.

I'm sure that comparable situations exist. And I have heard from a variety of sources all familiar with Briggs Chaney that the student-transience problem is a huge educational setback for kids, especially in elementary school.

Community is almost impossible to develop in "high-churn" neighborhoods. Well, professional community continues if people don't move out of town or out of state, and there are collegial community relations that exist because of professionalism. But the sort of community that is strongest and most important, that can't develop until and unless people know people, and have known them for years... long enough to deeply understand and possibly to deeply trust them. And there isn't any community stronger than one that grows up together, goes to school together, lives together as adults and develop their adult relationships, and raise their own kids in the same community in which they were raised.

That's the sort of community that survives anything, instead of fragmenting into a bunch of little cliques or even individual family units who are all thinking "every one for themselves". Building community means you can work together in good times or bad, and the relationship between such a community and local government is generally a relationship between equals.

Promoting anything that promotes transience promotes a community full of uninvolved sheep who have no solution to any of their problems other than to try to drive the problems away, or to move themselves away.

marylandgangs said...

the majority of renters are fine people and good neighbors, but common sense tells you that as a percentage they do not have the same stake and interest long-term in their properties or schools. THIS IS NOT AN INDICTMENT OF THEM, DAN, BUT RATHER HUMAN NATURE!!!!Uh, renters are "fine people"? Could you be a little bit more condescending?

We are not just "fine people." We're the same as everyone else. There are lousy neighbors who own homes and lousy neighbors who rent.

I've been renting in Silver Spring for 22 years, 18 of those years in one home, I have a child in college who lived in the same community the entire time he was in grade school.

My family has been much more stable than the large number of the homeowners who've come and gone in the time we've been here.

Do you really want to tell me I'm less invested in this community than anyone around me? This community I've volunteered in, in countless ways over the years I've been here?

If you are so concerned about transiency, fight for a living wage, and then maybe people CAN be more stable. Do you really think people always move because they want to?

But my real problem with you, Stuart, is that you and I and everyone should be working for the homes that people NEED -- rather than some questionable attempts at creating someone's idea of an ideal community. People are dealing with serious NEEDS here, and if you haven't noticed it, minorities are quickly losing places to live in this county.

Maybe you have the luxury of spending so much time worrying about "socio-economic and demographic balance" (which sounds suspiciously like the notion that minorities need to be around white folks to do well.) Some of us, however, have to focus on NEEDS.

jt said...

I agree with Mr. Rochester - this part of the county is neglected. One good example - when a Paint Branch Student was killed while crossing Rt.29 to get home from school, they built a 1 mile fence to prevent kids from taking a short-cut to get to their homes in the Castle Blvd. area. If this was any other part of the county, they would have build a nice pedestrian bridge to cross Rt. 29. Look at all of the townhomes they've put in this area.. any other part of the county has a much better mixture of single family homes. It's nothing against people but TH's are going to attract people with lower incomes then what is necessary to afford a decent single family home. It is also accurate that eventually the TH owner is going to move someplace to buy a single family house (unless his income remains low so he can only afford a single family house). Mr. Rochester has prevented many abuses by developers to bring junk into our community including helping my community in Valleystream in our fight against StorageUSA to remove a huge sign they tried to post on Rt. 198. Instead of arguing about whether stating that our community is neglected is part of the problem, we should figure out how we can better influence the County Govt in their decision making processes.

Dan Reed said...

We have to make a distinction between affordable (subsidized) housing and attached housing. Not all townhouses are cheap. The Albany Grove and Aspen Ridge townhouses being built at Briggs Chaney and Dogwood are selling for upwards of $400,000 (and even higher when the market was still strong) and, according to the developer, have attracted FDA employees.

These are people who will have an ownership stake in our community and, hopefully, stick around even when their housing needs change. New attached housing in East County isn't going to look like what we already have in Greencastle or Valley Stream. It's no longer economical to build them here or anywhere else in Montgomery County.

As for that pedestrian bridge across Route 29: it and the fence blocking people from crossing what has now become a freeway on foot are mutually exclusive, meaning that MoCo might still build one . . . if the money's there.

Thomas Hardman said...

Here in Aspen Hill, one group of previous "section 8" subsidized housing which was widely viewed as a focus of the crime infestation was, starting about 2001 or so, converted into luxury townhomes. The former 4-story garden-style apartments were converted into 4 story townhomes, evidently by just punching stairways up between the flats. After the conversions, the housing-bubble peak price was in the vicinity of $415K and I must say that the fit and finish of the places was indeed lovely. The prices have dropped significantly, so anyone buying now would have something of a bargain.

Yet this development shares its main entrance to Georgia Avenue across from Heathfield Road with a condo complex where most of the condos are rented out and probably sublet as well. It remains "low rent" and it continues to have a crime problem which is conspicuously absent in the townhome community, which has a very heavy metal fence (lighter fences were cut through) separating it from both the surrounding community and the nearby PEPCO-owned park-like vacant lot. It also features a card-key controlled security gate for vehicular access.

While Marylandgangs seems to think that it's rhetorically sound to infer to the general by drawing from the singular and attempting to offer proof of that by personal anecdote, it's logically fallacious on at least two levels.

While many people do indeed rent, and rent long term, while living lives which are not troublesome to their neighbors nor well-known to the police, commercial rental properties are well known in sociology and criminology as being associated with crime. While statistics don't directly indicate causality, they do tell you where problems are even if they cannot exactly tell you the cause.

As a rule, the lower the rent, the higher the transiency. As a rule, the higher the rate of transiency, the lower the rate of success in schools. These are statistical facts, of course, and to these trends there will be exceptions. However, if you have ever played the ponies, and actually learned anything from it, you know now to take the sucker bet just because exceptionally rarely the sucker bet makes it into win/place/show.

Where we do see an interesting class of exceptions is in the phenomenon of rent-controlled and subsidized housing. When people find that their rent is least expensive when they stay in the same place, they do tend to stay there, and do become part of the community. Yet traditional approaches to subsidized housing has relied on economies-of-scale and has tended to concentrate poverty in an exclusive way, and the community built, thus, is a community sharing the culture of poverty, and you get concentrations as well of all of the things that are associated with the culture of poverty: crime, violence, single-parent families, low education outcomes, unemployability (employers to look at addresses, you know), and multiple generations of hopelessness where the community standards are so low that almost nobody ever sees a good example, much less makes a good example of themselves.

Thus, to create community that supports the poor no less than it empowers the rich and middle-class, we should support subsidized housing only in the scattered-site mode. Though people might find themselves locked into living in extremely diverse communities (diverse in all areas especially including education and income), they will find their kids locked into the same school cluster and they will graduate with the same students that they attended school with in first grade, most likely. This has the best potential for high education outcome, which is the key to success as we all know, speaking on average.

Translation for the impaired: "Welfare Projects Bad, Concentrating Cheap Rentals Almost As Bad, Scattered-Site Subsidized Housing, Good".