Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pay and Go and the Special Election, Part Two

The 1997 passage of Pay and Go, a proposal designed to free developers from some of the county’s infrastructure requirements for new projects, set off a firestorm in the 1998 County Council elections. Nowhere was the heat more intense than in District 5, where Takoma Park City Council Member Marc Elrich used the issue to bludgeon incumbent Pay and Go supporter Derick Berlage:

In District 5, Elrich says the county would grow just fine without Pay and Go, which is designed to speed the development process, requiring developers to pay for 25 percent of the cost on road projects needed to serve the development.

Berlage counters that high-tech companies have been choosing to move to Frederick County or Northern Virginia, and said Pay and Go is needed to help attract those companies to Montgomery County.

Elrich said the county shouldn’t try to look like Fairfax County. Instead, he says the county needs much higher impact fees. He suggested a development impact fee of $15,000 on new homes to pay for schools and roads. This presumably would be passed on to the homebuyer.

Elrich said the county has two problems with its growth policy: “It’s both letting growth go and letting growth go for free.”

Older neighborhoods, many of them included in District 5, end up subsidizing schools and roads to serve new developments in the upcounty, Elrich said.

“It really hurts the downcounty when you let somebody build cheap in the upcounty. It devalues the older neighborhoods,” he said.

Berlage says he has been a leader against sprawl, opposing master plans that encourage sprawl, such as one for Clarksburg, while encouraging more growth in areas served by mass transit. Berlage also cited his status as a leader against the Intercounty Connector.

Elrich calls Berlage a “total hypocrite,” saying he’s changed his tune on developer contributions. In 1990, Berlage didn't accept developer money. This time he is accepting some developer contributions, although they total less than a quarter of what he raised, according to spokeswoman Susan Madden. As of Aug. 10, he had raised $77,700.

Elrich said that if Berlage was doing a good job, he “should have plenty of money” without resorting to developer money.

Berlage said Silver Spring is no longer at war with the business community, and said Elrich is still using business as a “bogeyman.”
Elrich went further on his website, where he called Pay and Go “possibly the worst legislation in 50 years.”

In District 3, challenger Phil Andrews used Pay and Go to target incumbent William Hanna:

In District 3, Hanna said he regrets his vote for Pay and Go for residential development: “That was a mistake on my part. I admit it, and I corrected it.”

Hanna said commercial growth still needs a “kick-start” from Pay and Go, which Andrews disputes.

Andrews says that he, too, is for growth, but in areas that can support it -- near Metro stations and existing schools -- rather than allowing sprawl and building the new roads and schools that sprawl requires.

Andrews also accuses Hanna of being “beholden to developers” because Hanna accepts developer campaign contributions.

Hanna, a former Rockville mayor and city councilman, says it’s only natural that he gets contributions from developers because he favors development. Hanna has a vision of the county as a high-tech research and development campus, and said development is needed for that vision to come true.

“I resent the implication that somehow my vote can be bought, and that's what they are saying of course. But that's politics. You've got to have a thick skin, but you don't have to like it.”
And you thought 2006 was intense, hmmm?

In the meantime, Pay and Go was running into problems. Days after passage, County Council Member Neal Potter introduced amendments to eliminate residential projects from the program and raise fees for commercial projects. County Executive Doug Duncan proposed prohibiting developers from withdrawing projects approved under the old system and resubmitting them under the new regime. Pay and Go sponsor Gail Ewing responded:

“Doug Duncan, who wants nothing to do with us, is now one of us,” said Councilwoman Gail Ewing (D-At large) of Chevy Chase. “Doug Duncan has told every media outlet ... about the ‘bad guys’ over at the council who can’t make a decision. Now, lo and behold, Duncan is one of his own ‘bad guys.’ The Pay and Go decision was made weeks ago, but oh no, Doug opens it back up with his amendments.”
In May 1998, the County Council removed residential projects from Pay and Go but grandfathered in some projects that were filed before then. Park and Planning found that Pay and Go only accounted for 1.3 million square feet of 11 million square feet of commercial construction approved in 1998. “It's not like the floodgates are open,” said Joe Davis, the acting director of the development review division.

The results of the 1998 elections sealed the fate of Pay and Go. Program sponsor Gail Ewing, an At-Large County Council Member, retired and was succeeded by fellow supporter Steve Silverman. Program opponent Neal Potter also retired and was succeed by fellow opponent Blair Ewing. Derick Berlage defeated Marc Elrich by a 7,765-6,275 margin in District 5. But challenger Phil Andrews ousted William Hanna in District 3 by a 6,195-4,030 margin, shifting the balance of power. The County Council voted to end Pay and Go by a 5-4 vote in October 1999, with Andrews, Blair Ewing, Marilyn Praisner (District 4), Betty Ann Krahnke (District 1) and Nancy Dacek (District 2) voting for repeal and Berlage, Silverman, Ike Leggett (At-Large) and Mike Subin (At-Large) voting to keep it.

What does the above story have to do with the District 4 special election? Two of today’s candidates, Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) and former Montgomery County Civic Federation President Cary Lamari, took positions on Pay and Go during the debate. We’ll find out what they were in Part Three.