Friday, December 17, 2004

The sprawl of suburban sprawl

Subj: The sprawl of suburban sprawl
Date: 12/12/2004 1:06:55 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: MarianR451

Sound familiar (except for the burned homes)?

Neighbors of Burned Homes Pained by Suburban Sprawl

Published: December 12, 2004

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 - Blue plastic ribbons dangle from some saplings that line the mouth of Araby Bog, delineating the wetland boundary, as recognized by the State of Maryland and the development companies that are building 500 homes in the area. About 100 feet away, the tree branches hold a few pale pink ribbons, marking the edge of the future housing lots.

Up the small hill from the mouth of the bog, clearly visible through the naked trees of December, are the large houses of Hunters Brooke, where 30 fires were set before dawn on Monday and 10 houses were consumed by the flames.

W. Faron Taylor, the deputy state fire marshal, said on Saturday that investigators had not narrowed their search for a suspect, but after the blaze it was widely noted that a group of eco-terrorists had set fires at other new buildings or developments from San Diego to Long Island, N.Y. In those cases, however, a loosely knit group, the Earth Liberation Front, explicitly took credit - and that has not happened here.

Whatever the motive, the fires have highlighted a long and contentious battle over whether this instant dose of suburban density belonged here. The flames seem unlikely to alter the outcome: the developer of Hunters Brooke said this week that the houses would be rebuilt.

For years, local citizens fought their way from the Charles County Planning Commission to the federal courts to preserve the bog. It was not just the wetland, one of the few remaining magnolia bogs in the mid-Atlantic region, that they sought to preserve. They cherish their isolation from Washington's inexorably spreading suburbs. They do not want to lose their chance to see the full panoply of stars in the deeper dark of a rural night.

For Patricia Stamper, a 66-year-old government statistician who has lived up a dirt road in the Mason Springs area with her horses for 30 years, it is impossible to untangle her concern for the environment from her anger that "a high density housing complex is being dumped on us all at once."

She lives less than a mile from Hunters Brooke and a few hundred yards from the companion planned development called Falcon Ridge, which will also border the bog. Asked which was more important, keeping the bog pristine or preserving the quiet life she sought when she moved here, Ms. Stamper said, "You're asking me to make an artificial choice."

David Boswell is also feeling crowded. His great-great-grandmother, in 1902, bought the old slave quarters he owns one mile down another dirt road near the rear of Hunters Brooke. Mr. Boswell, who is 37, said: "There was a woman in the paper who said she wanted to move out here in the country and see a hawk in the trees. What about me? I'm already here. I've been working on my house for years. Now I'll have their street lights across the way."

The clash of cultures that has been an inevitable consequence of suburban sprawl for 50 years has slowly changed its context. Rising environmental awareness has coincided with the ability of ever-more-distant national homebuilding conglomerates to plant dense modern developments far into the countryside.

Of the 1.7 million dwellings constructed in 2003, 15 percent were in rural areas, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, a statistician with the National Association of Home Builders.

Now, however, many rural areas are home to sophisticated transplants like Ms. Stamper, or her friend Ellie Cline, a former real estate agent who lives in Araby House, a colonial-era home. They can find their way around a county government. They know or are quick studies on environmental rules. They can reach out to experts and environmental groups with money and muscle when a fragile environmental area, like Araby Bog, is jeopardized by loss of water, polluted runoff or any other incidental consequence of development.

They can form organizations like Save Araby, Mattawoman and Mason Springs, or Samms. With aid from pro bono lawyers , they can sue.

The 6.5-acre magnolia bog, soon to be flanked by developments, is one of the last of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region. Roderick Simmons, a botanist with Maryland Native Plants Society, said that the 100,000 gallons of water flowing daily from the bog into Mattawoman Creek, and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay, is "ultra-pure spring water."

It is ringed by sweet bay magnolias and carpeted with sphagnum moss, and is home to several rare or threatened plants. Robert DeGroot, president of the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, said, "This is a very small pristine area just full of plants that you don't see anywhere else."

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Subj: Re: [CB9M Chair's Blog] The sprawl of suburban sprawl
Date: 12/17/2004 7:29:43 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Cbleelaw
To: Reysmont

This is one of the many problems which relates to a movement in this country favored by certain folk whom the nonpartisan nature of the board forbids naming, whereby those who own private property in their own minds, believe themselves entitled to do with it precisely as they choose, without regard to environmentalism and other factors, AND to be financially compensated in the event that environmental or other governmental regulations limits the maximum economic benefit to them and exploitation of their property.

Those who had to find something else to read in November will have noted that there was a proposition which passed in Oregon which requires that the state compensate private property owners for the economic loss caused to them by environmental regulation if they owned the land prior to the regulation coming into effect.

Those who buy later are out of luck under current law, and that appears to be unchanged. Thus, if a field becomes unusable for housing because of a program to protect farmland, or some endangered creature residing thereon, either the restriction must be eliminated or the owner must be paid at a rate specified in the proposal.

In Oregon, the issues have either been the kind of nonurban environmental habitat preservation made famous by the Spotted owl, OR the creation of greenbelts around Portland which are designed to keep the local urb from spreading and spreading, and throwing off governmental costs which are harder and harder to cover.

This kind of exurban sprawl is one of the reasons that the Feds are considering different rules for forest fire prevention, well off people living well off teh beaten path who want the same protections which they would get if they lived across the street from the statehouse.

In Manhattan, we also have a version of this, which might bear thought.
We have air rights. The buildings in the would be North Campus area all have air rights associated, namely the difference in volume between the largest as of right building which could be built on the lot under current zoning rules, and the one which is actually there.

These rights are traded commercially in midtown, so that a buyer within a certain distance of a seller who has not maximized his construction can sometimes buy the right to overbuild by transferring air rights from the seller's lot to the buyer's lot nearby.

It might be worth considering as a means of avoiding all the eighteen story buildings which are planned to see if the resisters would consider donating their air rights to some local entity committed not to use them So that the largest thing that could be built on the site is what is already there.

Thus, even if Columbia eventually got the lot, they wouldn't be able to build higher than what now is. That might help matters a bit.

I think that is Maritta's committee but it is definitely worth a thought or two. Edwin Marshall can fingure out precisely what the FAR for the buildings now in exitence are and what the Zoning permits, to see what can be done with this. If he will.


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