Blabbings about family, community, sustainability and life from Frederick, MD.

Fighting for Density . . . and Losing (for now) September 27, 2006

Filed under: Community,frederick,housing,Sprawl — tobymurdock @ 9:18 pm

last night i went to Frederick’s City Hall to support a neighbor’s application to build a garage with an upstairs apartment.

observing and participating in democracy in action even particularly at the micro level is fun. incredbile the emotion stuff like this generates. over a dozen opponents to the garage. and we lost. 😦 which is tragic, if sprawl, affordable housing, community or civility are any of your concerns.)

the opponents hated me. i’m on the watch for my house getting egged.

but i’ll keep on supporting what i believe in. i love this stuff. and we’re going to win eventually.

here’s what i had to say:

Good evening. My name is Toby Murdock. I live at XXXXX. I did not know Mr. Tran until a neighbor visited our home with a petition opposing his application to build a garage. When my wife showed me the petition I went to Mr. Tran’s home to offer my support. Understand I am here not out of a long-standing friendship by but simply for principle and concern for my city.

The first point I’d like to make in support of Mr. Tran’s garage and garage apartment is that we need to understand that we do not make decisions regarding zoning in isolation. We live in a growing city and county, and how it grows depends on the decisions we make. Additional housing can come in the Frederick city core by gradually and naturally adding density to the core and the adjacent areas. Or it can come in our open spaces on entirely undeveloped land.

Those are the options. So while this body is in charge of Frederick city’s zoning, please realize that your impact goes much further. Every rejection of additional density within our city is a de facto approval of more sprawl on the exterior of the city and across the county. And with that approval comes the traffic, expense, environmental degridation of open space that accompany sprawl.

I love Frederick city’s walkable village atmosphere. And I love the preserved open spaces of the surrounding county. Let’s add to the former while we protect the latter and not condone sprawl by rejecting density.

Affordable housing is another very important topic for our community. There is a lack of it in our region and it makes the cost of living unbearable for much of our citizenry.

Housing units that are secondary to their structure–apartments above retail, in basements, on top of garages–are an excellent source of affordable housing. Because they are the secondary purpose of the sturcutre, they do not have the same pressures for high rents. But in a sprawl development pattern–strip malls with one-story structures, zoning regulations that prohibit in-law apartments–the supply of such afforable units is taken away.

The affordability of such units is magnified by a more holistic expense perspective. Mr. Tran’s home–adjacent to the core of the city, where additional density should develop–lies within walking distance of three of the city’s largest employment centers (Hood, FMH & downtown). A home that does not require the expense of a car–that’s true affordablility. Please provide that affordability through approval of this request.

The last and most troubling reason why I support Mr. Tran’s request comes from the text of the petition circulated in opposition of the garage. That petition objected to the addition of renters into our largely owner-occupied neighborhood, as renters would “undermine the integrity of this historic neighborhood.”

I think we would all agree that we don’t have as much civility as we used to have–certainly in the nation, and here in Frederick too. Much of civility comes from the ability to relate to one another despite differences. Exposure to citizens of different stripes helps us understand one another and be more civil to one another. Segregation across different socio-economic dimensions limits that exposure and diminishes our civility.

My home at XXXXX is next store to a 4-unit rental apartment building at XXXXX. The tenants are different from most of us on the block–younger, without children, not as affluent. But I welcome them into the neighborhood. And thought they are renters, I do not consider their “integrity” to be any less than mine or any other of my neighbors’.

Let us resist the temptation to exclude those who are different from our neighborhoods. Let us encourage exposure to those of diverse backgrounds and the civility that such interaction generates.

I look forward to your approval of Mr. Tran’s zoning request, your affirmation of growth through density and not through sprawl, your affirmation of affordable housing, and your affirmation of civility. I look forward to the improvement to my neighborhood through Mr. Tran’s garage. And thank you for your time and consideration.