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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Housing Should Include Jobs

George Wenschhof

Local and state government have tackled the issues surrounding community planning for, it seems, forever. The latest flavor of choice is the concept of "smart growth".

However, tying new housing development to local job availability is not a concept which has been implemented by government.

The basic idea of smart growth is to promote new housing in areas where community services such as road networks, water, sewer, schools, fire, rescue, police services and the like, presently exist or, can be expanded to meet the needs of new housing.

The idea being it makes sense to develop on municipal services such as water and sewer as opposed to well and septic fields, which would lead to “urban sprawl”, a definition created by those who favor smart growth.

The argument goes along the line that allowing urban sprawl to occur would overburden existing community services.

A reasonable argument, one would think. But, looking at the attempts within Frederick County, Maryland to adhere to these principles would lead one to question the validity of the argument.

One only has to look at the gridlock on the road networks in and out of The City of Frederick and the strain on local government services, to see the result of forcing development within the city boundaries.

But, that is a discussion for another day. Instead, the focus, regardless of the planning model used, should be zeroed in on the creation of competitive salaried local jobs.

It is generally agreed commercial development impacts local government services to a less degree than residential development, which triggers many convoluted attempts to pay for new school construction.

Meanwhile, the overall cost of commuting is simply an expenditure government and the taxpayer cannot continue to pay.

Like, many similar sized communities, within forty to one hundred miles of a major urban city, the number of Frederick County residents commuting to work located outside of their county, is a huge number.

Within Maryland, the number of workers who commute to jobs outside of the county in which they reside, in Prince George's, Montgomery and Frederick range from 40-60%.

Whether, it is the cost associated with the paving of a highway, metro system or gasoline, the age old approach of daily commuting to work must come to an end.

Implementing telecommuting and job sharing practices will help. But, until competitive salaried posions are located near where one lives, the economic and environmental costs will continue to be severe.

This leads me back to community planning models. Currently, the Frederick Board of County Commissioners, led by Blaine Young and Company is promoting tax breaks for those businesses that expand and create job opportunities.

The only argument on the issue among the commissioners, who ran on a platform of creating jobs, is that small businesses, where most of the job creation comes from, should also benefit. On this, I agree.

However, there is no requirement in the proposed legislation which would require these businesses to hire local workers to fill the newly created positions.

A requirement, I would argue is the most important component to be included in the legislation.

Why give a local tax break to a Frederick County business that is employing workers who live outside of Frederick County?

While, requiring 100% of the new jobs created to be filled by Frederick County residents would be onerous; a reasonable percentage of the new jobs should be required to be filled by local residents.

Expanding this concept further and one can see the benefit of adding a job availability component to the approval process for new housing developments. Egad, a home builder may ask; “First, I have to pass an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) and now I have to meet job criteria before I can begin building homes”?

My answer would be. like school capacity, county job availability would be one of the means testing components for approval of housing developments.

Master developers already do this to some degree, but local government approval for new housing tied to local job availability has not been done.

I say, Why not?

The value of homes in a community where competitive paying jobs exist would surely be higher as a result. Who wouldn't be willing to pay more for a home in a community where they can also work.

The only way the existing time consuming commute which impacts severely on the economy and the environment can be altered is to begin to change current development models.

Another benefit of requiring local job opportunities being tied to new housing construction would be a lower residential tax rate as higher commercial tax revenue would result.

Implementation of a local job availability requirement for new housing will, of course, be met with much resistance and arguments for why it will not work.

However, state and local community government lawmakers should seriously consider this reasonable option as the benefits of working close to home in a job with a competitive salary, leading to improving the quality of life, is a goal all share.

Having all the players in the development field concentrate on job creation only makes sense.

I say it is long over do and it is time to start seriously examining a job availability requirement tied to new housing development.


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