If you haven’t watched the videos about the proposed Poplar Farm development published in the Spy on April 8th, you are missing important news that directly affects you. A developer plans to build 456 homes (210 apartments, 108 single family homes, and 138 townhouses) on what used to be Poplar Hill Farm. In short, once was a small farm in Talbot County will become a densely populated mini town, which will likely result in degrading our quality of life on the Eastern Shore.
The “listening session” included the developer explaining the proposal and members of the community commenting on it. All comments were negative—and with good reason.
I will not review the comments. They are worth listening to, and considering, for their own merits. The same can be said about the developer’s proposal. I listened to both and left feeling sorry for community members who rose in opposition to the proposal. The development seems likely to be approved. I left with a question for the authorities with power to approve the proposal: Why aren’t you concerned about the additional environmental, infrastructure, and social services stress that 456 new homes, and possibly a thousand new residents, will place on the county? Don’t you care? And forgive me for asking, what reasons do you have other than hoped-for profits to support a huge project like Popular Farm? What don’t I know?
Many of us moved to the Eastern Shore because of its rural character. Many of us were born here and have chosen to remain here because Talbot County is not Anne Arundel, Prince Georges, or Montgomery Counties. If we wanted to live in a rapidly growing suburb, we would move there. We do not.
But there is more to quality of life than just having the privilege of driving by corn fields and being able to drive into Easton and walk around and explore at any time of day. There are also issues involving the county’s ability to serve the sharp increase in population.
More people translates directly into the need for bigger schools, additional healthcare resources, more police, enhanced and expanded sewer and water treatment, and greater recreational services. Does anyone believe our schools, police, healthcare resources, roads, and other infrastructure are perfect today? One thousand new residents will undermine improvement efforts.
The problem with new developments is that the developer—the organization inviting new residents to join our community—is not asked to pay for much, if anything, of the costs involved in the expanded services. And by the time the county acknowledges that its schools are overcrowded, the developer has moved on to its next big project. And, if you think about it, rapidly expanded infrastructure and social service needs are often not successfully implemented.
The Poplar Farm development increases traffic on the 322 bypass. (It may be time to stop referring to it as a bypass as the number of local destinations grows.) Route 322 will get a new traffic light. Oxford Road will not, we are told, despite the new mini town having its second exit on that road. How many cars per day will go in and out of that exit?
It may be premature to envision the need for a complicated new traffic pattern to handle the traffic in and out of the new development, but a cloverleaf or four-lane overpass may be needed in a few years. I am kidding, of course, because that would be a huge new expenditure for the county. The developer will not be paying for it and none of us want that type of thing on the Eastern Shore.
In addition to traffic, we could talk about whether the new development helps or hurts the health of Chesapeake Bay. What is your guess?
And will the new development make Talbot County schools more successful? Ask any teacher whether increasing class size makes his or her job easier.
And what about healthcare? Will the new hospital be obsolete before it is built? Will the quality of healthcare in our area deteriorate? The answer is that we do not know. What we do know is that the cost of matching healthcare resources to the population is not a problem on the Poplar Farm developer’s radar screen. The developer will be long-gone by the time we acknowledge we have a problem.
One reaction to concerns about Poplar Farm is to suggest that all of us who moved here from somewhere else are part of the problem. The argument suggests that if future residents brought in by the new development are a problem, so too are those of us, like this writer, who moved here in, say, the last 20 years. There is limited logic in that argument but let me suggest that two wrongs do not make a right. The question we need to ask is what the future of Talbot County and the Eastern Shore should look like.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.
Letters to Editor
Reed Fawell 3 says
Fouling Our Own Bed is an apt title. You can see it happening everywhere now.
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece. I don’t want to see the Eastern Shore destroyed.
Margot Miller says
I agree. I am totally opposed to the Poplar Hill development plan. I live at Easton Club and we will be affected by the location of their road and the lack of a new light. I predict many accidents on the Oxford Road. But I think the arguments about schools and health care are extremely important.
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece and for your comment. I agree with you on the likelihood of numerous accidents at the intersection of Oxford Road and the entrance into the development.
Brooke Lynch says
We need to write to Easton and Talbot officials protesting this development. Listen to the presentation by the developer and residents. ANOTHER Lakeview!
John Dean says
Richard Chavatel says
Dean is correct in every aspect of concern he raises. County officials throughout Maryland create road blokes for the small builder or homeowner who wants to build or remodel. Anyone out there tried to remodel,build a spec or try and develop a small parcel if land. So many regs. Expansion is happening all around the eastern shore and into Delawsre. I am not aware of a magic pill that you can give the sewer and water systems but there is no way these utilities can sustain added growth. Existing systems struggle. Remodel downtown Easten. Use space in town that so desperately needs to be fixed first. Apartments. Apartments in Poplar development will create problems as well. Shoot this down..no way.
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece. I agree with you that the focus in Easton should be on upgrading the downtown area, especially housing stock. Easton can be a great town, but to get there requires focus on improving what is good in Easton today.
Al DiCenso says
It is my understanding that, in addition to the residential units, there will also be commercial establishments, likely national firms of one form or another included in the overall design. Why? Marlboro Avenue and downtown Easton are only a short drive away, and already we have vacant store fronts in both locations. If true, this will place additional hardships on our local merchants struggling with shortages of help, and ever-increasing competition from out-of-area merchants who have no vested interests in our communities except how much money they can extract from us.
Wake up, county commissioners and town councilmen!
Carol Bilek says
I agree completely with J. E. Dean. The Eastern shore is one the last places on the East Coast that still boasts family farms, small towns and a rural landscape. But right now it has been marked by developers as the new place to exploit our cleared, flat farmlands.
You might look to Frederick, Leesburg, Gaithersburg and Annapolis to see what damage developers can do. They turn small, historic towns into congested, overpopulated suburbs where people don’t know their neighbors, have to fight obscene traffic on mega highways to get to work, and the peace and quiet of farmland is replaced with the deafening roar of traffic twenty four hours a day.
The beautiful places on the Eastern Shore will disappear in very short order if developers get their foot in the door (any more than they already have). They will try to convince people that growth is inevitable. We’ll it’s not. It is all about putting money into the pockets of the developer, the contractors, the real estate companies, the banks who loan the money, and the lawyers who try to convince the Boards and public that this is all good. It’s not. It’s destructive to our lifestyles, our health and our environment. For God’s sake, just say NO!
John Dean says
Excellent comment. Thank you for it.
jeff morton says
The list of what is wrong with this project is a mile long. The list of what is right with this project for the town, county, environment & people in my eyes is non existant.
If the commissions that have the power for this fiasco OK it, it is politics at it’s worst.
John Dean says
Thank you for your comment. I could not agree more.
Ben Sheets says
Let’s not forget what is already happening at Lakeside. Then there is the rumored development off the St. Michael’s Rd. near Love’s Folly Rd. When is enough enough?
John Dean says
Thanks for reading the piece.
Eva M. Smorzaniuk MD says
Thank you Mr. Dean. You outline the myriad negative side effects from a project of this scale, and in this sensitive location. There is no „up-side“ for Talbot County, only profit for the developer. I encourage readers to listen to the meeting recording, including the many thoughtful opinions given by concerned citizens, as well as representatives from ESLC and ShoreRivers. Then, let the Talbot County Council know how you feel. Since Easton has run out of growth allocations, it must come from the County.
John Dean says
Dr. Smorzaniuk,thank you for your comment. I hope every reads it and acts accordingly.
Just say NO.
Barbara Denton says
This development must be stopped. Using over 66 acres of critical area should stop the show in its tracks. However, the planning commissions seem to be oblivious of their obligations to protect the environment and to stop this rampant development. The sports complex is the red herring in this plan. Not only is it unnecessary it will be another financial burden for Easton and the County to maintain and keep going. Not only will there be 456 housing units, which probably means 912 vehicles moving in and out of the development every day, there will be commercial traffic, traffic for the sporting events and the traffic going and coming on the Oxford Road.
There is no way to create any kind of traffic flow easement on the Oxford Road. The president of the Easton planning commission asked why they could not put a walkway all the way to the bypass from the entrance on the Oxford Road. This question makes it very clear she has not looked at the area and has no understanding of the debacle this is going to cause traffic wise. The Easton Elementary school is at capacity now.
Who knows when or if the hospital will ever be built. The 198 acres the city bought beside Poplar Hill for a woodland park is another red herring. Just where are all these so-called nature lovers going to park when they get to this woodland heaven? Who is going to make sure this land does not get developed as Easton seems to think adding more housing which is not needed in light of all the developments already approved is a good idea. There is nothing like Easton using the County citizens tax money to make them miserable and corrupt the environment even more.
Easton is totally out Planned Unit Development allotments. Everything this development is doing is against the comprehensive plan. The citizens of the County and Easton need to stand up and say no. If you want to live in Fairfax, Arlington, Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County or Prince Georges County move there. Leave Talbot County alone.
Rev Julia Hart says
Thank you Mr Dean! I thank all of you. I can’t imagine anyone who disagrees with these facts and feelings. It’s scary. It’s horrifying. It doesn’t feel as if this Development is well thought out or planned. Such Development impacts every one of us. Poor us!
Eileen A. Deymier says
Thank you for your excellent article Mr Dean,it should be no surprise to the developer that many citizens are against this out of scale proposal for a large new subdivision of single family homes,townhomes & apartments on the Oxford Rd.
67% of the Poplar Hill property is in the Critical Area & the density of this proposal is,to say the least, not compatible with this location.
Poplar Hill land is zoned residential but, to add insult to injury, the applicant has proposed 103,700 sq.ft. of commercial space (more than the Talbot Town shopping center in downtown Easton) on the by-pass, adjacent to Temple B’Nai Israel as well as Chatham Village & Magnolia Meadows apartments on Lauren Lane.
To our elected officials,just say NO to the Poplar Hill development.
E.W. Clucas says
When will it stop ! Lakeside- Poplar Hill – Mathewstown Road – StMichaels Road . Does the county REALY want to look like Middletown Delaware. The real question people : why can’t our elected officials just say NO.
Is it time to put such developments to REFERENDUM. I do believe so !!!
From the banks of MILES CREEK
Reed Fawell 3 says
Mr. Clucas – Your question – why can’t our elected officials just say NO. – is highly pertinent, and it is a very important one increasingly in need of an answer, particularly so in light of recent and chronic history in this county and its towns. Something is rotten here in Denmark.
Dick Deerin says
Thank you for this article. The Poplar Farm project will be a disaster on so many levels for Talbot County and the Town of Easton. We all need to get active to convince our government officials that this project should be denied.
Richard brousseu says
Stop the builder
Patrick Shockley says
All valid points. Like it or not the country and your county are growing. It would be nice to say after you moved in there will be no more. That is not reasonable however. Work with the county and developers and where possible both sides should make accommodations.
Anne Stalfort says
We can say no to a developer. We don’t have to work with them. I always thought a Critical Area designation meant something: a stop sign to save a fragile area. I hope the “deciders” decide no.
John Dean says
Thanks for reading the piece. When it comes to building in previously protected areas, I don’t think accommodations are appropriate. If a project is wrong–if it overtaxes infrastructure, schools, and health resources, it is a mistake, in my opinion.
Bishop Joel Marcus Johnson says
Thank you, J.E. – I look at these new developments and wonder if there is one – please, show me, just one – affordable home for a new school teacher beginning their vocation in Easton and Talbot County. 46% of our public school personnel cannot afford to buy a home in our upscale economy or our new McMansion developments. Please!
THOMAS V MCCOY says
I moved here from somewhere else.
I don’t want other people moving here from somewhere else.
John Dean says
I’m not sure of the point you are making, but if you are suggesting that those of us who were not born or raised on the Eastern Shore are hypocrites, please let me politely disagree. Either Poplar Farm and similar developments are a mistake or they aren’t. You know how I feel. I’d hate to think that the opinions of some Eastern Shore residents would be disregarded because they weren’t native Eastern Shore people.
Steve Shimko says
Here’s what I feel is a salient point. Many of those who spoke in opposition to this development and many of the comments here are critical of the building of sports fields in the Critical Area, and some seem to go as far as opposing any development because much of the land lies, you know, in the Critical Area.
I find these arguments specious at best. Most of the houses along Polly’s Hill Lane are in the critical area. A number of them have pools and other forms of impervious surface. Most of Oxford is in the Critical Area, as is Easton Village, both places from which we heard testimony decrying the undesirable use of land in the Critical Area. This all sounds a bit hypocritical and selfish – I’ve got mine but you can’t have yours.
Reed Fawell 3 says
The question is this project’s size, use, and location. This is an auto centered, traffic generating mini town build on fragile wetlands within a highly constricted traffic grid.
As such, this project is precisely the opposite from what Easton and the County need. If and when this project is built on this site it will result in a gratuitous disaster carelessly and recklessly imposed on what is already there, a special and precious resource for all living around it and for those passing through, including not least all those living west of the Easton Bypass.
In addition, the harm caused by the design, use and location of this project, will radiate outward in all directions, destroying the fabric, atmosphere, function, and livability of it’s region for miles around. Hence, it is a abomination of irresponsible development. Instead of Easton building this suburban quick buck dinosaur that has failed so many American towns and cities in the last century, Easton should rebuild and revive itself using new urban principles on its extensive underutilized land east of its by pass, in Easton’s corporate limits there.
Ralph Walker says
To quote Forrest Gump
Stupid is as stupid does.
Mickey Terrone says
Dear John, I read your article. I’m disappointed with your perspectives. Make no mistake, I have no desire whatsoever to live in the suburban environment like Anne Arundel County where I lived for more than 20 years.
But let’s not wave any melodramatic red flags comparing growth in Talbot County with Montgomery, Anne Arundel or Prince Georges Counties. And let’s not wring our hands over Talbot County’s less than astronomical population growth of 2.5X since 1860. With our 37,932 people squeezed into Talbot, our county population density is currently 79.5/sq. mile. Montgomery has grown by about 60X since 1860 to about 1,051,000 or about 1,982 people/sq mi.; Anne Arundel has grown by 25X to 590,000 or 936 people/sq mi.; and Prince Georges, which is now about 40X larger than it was in 1860 and 1,773 people/sq. mile. It has taken Talbot County 163 years to gain 23,000 people with an eye-popping explosion of 4,100 in the past 20 years.
Do these actual figures rise to the pitiful reference to Talbot becoming the next big “rapidly growing suburb”? I think you know better. You may find this ironic, but many of those you suggest have moved to Talbot County because they love the rural character manage to move to the Town of Easton, with the decidedly non-rural population density of 1,492 people/sq. mile, which is midway between Anne Arundel and Prince Georges densities.
The handwringing over imagined intolerable traffic on the Oxford Road is absurd. Having used that Road for the past 8.5 years, I can’t recall ever waiting for more than 1 traffic light cycle other than a couple of fender benders at the corner at Rt. 322, this despite the presence of the 350+ units of Easton Club. The proposed entrance to Poplar Hill on Oxford Road would be located .3 miles from Rt. 322. That leaves the remainder of the 8 miles to the Oxford Fire House minimally impacted.
The legitimately serious issues of infrastructure must be considered, whether the Poplar Hill development happens or not. A considerable issue with attracting young medical professionals and educators is having affordable housing available. I’d suggest that the lack of affordable housing is helping cause the deterioration of our medical services in this county. I’ve had two well known, long time Talbot County leaders tell me they were able to come to the county 25+ year ago was because affordable housing was available at the time they needed it. Communities like Poplar Hill comprise a demonstrable need for Talbot if we ever hope to have a thriving county. Poplar Hill is not “huge”, as you claim. A 2,500 unit Trappe project is huge, if it is ever fully completed.
You asked if anyone believes the various aspects of our infrastructure “are perfect today”? You seem to suggest that we should be halting new projects until our infrastructure is perfect. I hope no one is holding their breath waiting for that to happen, in Talbot County, or anywhere else. That is disingenuous. Leading professionals in education, healthcare, public safety etc are responsible for anticipating reasonable growth.
I believe the underlying reason for the handwringing and exaggerated objections about growth, largely center around the real reason wealthier classes of older folks come to Talbot, that is, the lowest tax rate in the state of Maryland. Wealthy folks can afford to purchase valuable acreage and high priced waterfront or water accessible properties. And since so many of these folks are retired or about to retire, they claim to be living on a fixed income and can’t afford any but the most minimal tax increases. Sure, but these folks aren’t relying on their monthly Social Security checks to survive. Their IRAs, Trust Funds and other considerable income sources belie the poor mouthing.
I’d strongly suggest that much of the infrastructure issues we have, along with the education, public safety, and health care are due to the artificially low tax rates that have been extant in Talbot County for years now. Nobody wants higher taxes, but it should be obvious that the county is operating far below optimal circumstances. We need to acknowledge the effective tax rate based on the Revenue Cap is a racket for our numerous wealthy landowners, which works to the detriment of average folks whose additional tax burdens would equate to a few cartons of cigarettes per year.
The impact of the Kirwan Commission may force Talbot to move forward with adjusting the current Revenue Cap which has served officially as Talbot’s excuse for infrastructure mediocrity. The children in our public schools deserve every benefit received anywhere in Maryland. Their teachers and schools staff as well as the other county employees deserve the best compensation and benefit packages possible for the great work they perform. And average families deserve to have reasonably priced housing.
If we are waiting for all systems and circumstances to be “perfect” before we move forward with new housing projects, I’m sure you are aware that moment will never come and is just an excuse to keep the “Not welcome” sign up for new non-millionaire Talbot residents. Isn’t that the ultimate in snobbery? You remember the old bumper stickers: Welcome to the Eastern Shore; now go home. We need to get past that mentality. The fearmongering absurdity of Talbot becoming the next Montgomery County is unworthy of your stature.
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece and offering your perspective on this vitally important issue. We are on different pages. I will leave it to readers to consider your perspectives rather than attempt some sort of rebuttal.
Dan Richardson says
Trying to stop development is a rather fruitless effort, land owners can put their land into conservation programs, but selling one’s land is frequently done to take care of elderly landowners. I’m also amused at Talbot county residents complaining about more people moving in. The country tends to be Democrat politically. I hope that 50% of the apartments go to those who crossed our southern border looking for a better life. Section 8 can pay their rent. The fact that they don’t know English, will work for below minimum wage to bump others out of the labor market and need public assistance with healthcare, food and everything else should be applauded by the Democrats of Talbot county.
Mickey Terrone says
Mr. Richardson, Republicans maintain a shrinking plurality in Talbot County, although Trump lost here in 2020 and Andy Harris lost in the last two election cycles here.
Perhaps the Republican plurality is shrinking due in part to the cynicism toward the growing number of immigrants (mostly Spanish speaking) who come to this rural county to take agricultural jobs that most folks refuse to take. These immigrants are hired by large farming and poultry corporations at awful wages and working conditions. Yet they come because they escape their dangerously violent native countries and because they can ensure their children receive a solid public education and their families have the long-term opportunity for a better life. Yet many white folks here see that as an invasion and see themselves as victims of these people of color who speak other languages. They either forget or are ignorant of how the big agricultural businesses profit from the labor of these immigrants who struggle to subsist – even as white folks can purchase their local poultry, fruits and vegetables at far bettter prices based on the low wages of these abused people. Yet you villify them by claiming they “bump others out of the labor market and need public assistance with healthcare, food and everything else”.
Yet this is the story of America. For 300+ years, white immigrants have arrived from Europe speaking other languages at big cities, suffered in deplorable conditions and were badly overworked for awful wages. Yet their children attended free public schools in those big cities and it was those second and third generations who eventually moved west and populated the midwest, becoming farmers and industrial leaders.
For a century after the Civil War, newly “freed” black people were forced to endure similar or worse conditions in places like Talbot County as tenant farmers and share croppers, denied good public education, the right to own a business and purchase property for fear of getting lynched if they spoke out. Yet they too have endured.
Racism and bigotry have always polluted and diminished this country. They still do. Fortunately, in Talbot County today, we have an organization like the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center that is dedicated to helping immigrants to accustomed to the culture of Talbot County and the Eastern Shore at a more rapid pace, always with the aim of educating the children to take their place in society as productive citizens.
Its my view that the efforts to build and provide more affordable housing are being undermined by schemers who buy up chunks of new property and intercede in offering those same houses for sale or rentals at prices only wealthier people can afford as second homes or vacation properties. Who benefits from those schemes? Generally speaking, its predatory white builders, white contractors and white home buyers. Talbot County, with the lowest property tax rate in the state of Maryland is ripe for rackets like this. Yet some folks complain that those people of color who are taking advantage of the “system”. Think again, Mr. Richardson. Your standard Republican response is to be expected.
Dan Richardson says
I’m fully in favor of illegal immigrants filling at least 50% of the proposed apartments in the development. I’m fully in favor of Talbot country taxpayers paying for their healthcare, English classes, food stamps, etc. The residents of Talbot county are the ones in an uproar about more residents. I just think a large percentage of those residents should be the truly needy. You make many assumptions about me. Sad. I’m waiting to see a large contingent of Talbot county residents protest for more housing for these immigrants, perhaps you could organize it.
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece. I hope that trying to stop developments like Poplar Farm is not a fruitless effort. I’m not sure how to respond to your political comment, so I won’t.
Tom Dennis says
Mr. Dean, thank you for sharing your thoughtful assessment of the potential impact on our community of developments like Poplar Hill. I couldn’t agree more that our local government’s “response” to this particular development (and others like it) must be to honestly examine the infrastructure support that will be required to support such projects. Moreover, it should ensure the developer bears a commensurate share of the costs for the required infrastructure. Those who believe the “market” will be incentivized to build the required infrastructure needed are sadly mistaken.
Absent such an approach, all of us as taxpayers will be asked to shoulder the additional costs for expanded public safety, health care, education, water and sewer facilities and transportation. Moreover, in the case of Poplar Hill, the allocation of critical area space has been exhausted. Asking Talbot County to surrender some of its critical area allocation for this project is absurd on its face.
While not unique, I’ve urged the development of an Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO)to the Talbot County Council and to the three candidates running for Mayor in Easton. Thirteen counties and 12 incorporated municipalities in Maryland have enacted APFOs, designed to assure that infrastructure necessary to support proposed new development is built concurrently with, or prior to, that new development. For those who are interested in the concept and the details of an APFO, might take a close look at a piece prepared by the Maryland Department of Planning https://planning.maryland.gov/Documents/mg24.pdf
So far, the reaction to such an ordinance for Talbot County has been encouraging. Pete Lesher, Vice President of the Talbot County Council, is doing a deep dive into this issue. He should be both encouraged and commended for his efforts. Hopefully, Easton and other municipalities in the county will examine this issue closely and develop ordinances to address sensible growth. Hopefully, a coordinated intergovernmental approach involving the County and its municipalities can be initiated and developed.
Adoption of such an ordinance for sensible growth will not be easy. It must be developed in tandem with our comprehensive plan to be effective.
I have no illusions such an ordinance will be without controversy. Planning is hard work. Good planning is “responsive” to needs, both current and prospective and not simply “reactive” to a sensitive political issue.
John Schreiner says
I agree that the Poplar Farm development as proposed is way to large for the area involved and the resultant traffic on the bypass and Oxford Rd will more that stretch the existing lanes. If such a development is to be carefully considered, one half the size is more than enough .
Tina haddaway says
My family has lived in Oxford ever since it’s been a town. We built the 13th house here. I’m not sure how many generations that is but NO WE DON’T WANT THAT CRAP!!! Not NOW, not EVER !!! They never ask people who are from here what we want.
Dodie Theune, PhD says
No No No to the Poplar Farm Project. What can I (we) do to stop it before it is another disaster?