I live with my wife outside the sleepy little village of Trappe, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. We live quite close to the town in open farmlands, just upstream from Trappe’s old historic village in southern Talbot County. It’s a time capsule of rural life really, a town complete with its own tribute to itself, a Museum of “Rural Life”, the smallest and quietest museum known to man. The tranquil old town of
Trappe, built around 1880 – 1950, has about 300 rural houses, some large and grand, others smaller and more modern. It’s essentially a crossroads village with a Main street, Maple street, a Home Run Baker Ballpark, a post office, and a few small restaurants, no tumbleweed yet, but its arrival wouldn’t surprise.
We have lived near Trappe, for thirty years now. We have been mercifully spared changes in our surrounding lands, aware of the possibility of “Development” for years but never seeing any. We live in “Republican country” where our many well-represented “rugged individuals” keep the local government to an absolute minimum, taxes are shamefully low, and we just don’t pay for all those unnecessary and inconvenient government “excesses”. We have read the tea leaves, and we are ok with being uninvolved as long as we are left alone, and up till now, we have been, but all that’s about to change.
In 2016, we read with great pleasure, and a breath relief, that the Talbot County Comprehensive Plan had taken the “progressive” contractual pledge to protect its wildlands, public safety, its public health and welfare, its environment, as not only irreplaceable resources but as an attraction for tourism streams of income. The County spent many years masterminding this aggressive, comprehensive plan, using economic incentives to safeguard the environment outlining how all these things were so important to citizens of the County. We said, Amen, finally, and Congratulations!
But, just outside of town, and just across the road from the old Trappe crossroads, along the highway barricade that forcibly divides the town in two, a route fifty “bypass” that was built to allow fast-moving travelers, a quick “get to the beach” via superhighway, are sprawling green corn and wheat fields. This is the site where a “new town” 2,500 dwelling planned unit development is proposed by The “Rauch Company”. This proposed development is ( back from its “zombie” status after the 2008 economic collapse.
Abandoned by Talbot County and their ostrich-like planning and zoning policy, through 2004-2008, and because the County never went back to clean up the annexation of the Trappe Annexation process, we abutting landowners and neighbors, back then, started a resistance alliance called “Friends of Trappe”, and were forced, by default and inaction of the County, to spend thousands of dollars, thousands of hours and untold meetings with neighbors and allies, to try to fend off The Rauch Corp. As expected and right on cue, the County refused to come to terms with the Town and its developer, did not offer planning or design guidance or any help whatsoever, and just used their denial of a septic allocation “wild card”, to deny any development whatsoever.
And so we are back at it again using our minimal tools to plead with the developer to scale down and redesign his development so that it makes sense and works for the town, not just for his business model. Our new resistance crew, about 20 property owners close to the proposed Lakeside development, call ourselves “The Downstream Alliance”. We are pleading with the County to do the right thing, step up and show advocacy, and it has been very, very, hard to get any traction.
But saying no is one thing and defeating unseemly proposals like this is another, and we neighbors are now seeing the differences. Only a few years before, “we were forced to fight against the earlier colossal version of the same Rauch development, The County seemed unmoved, and while fighting against the Trappe expansion, seemed frozen in the headlights about how to stall it out.
At that point in time, the County had no growth policy, no template for projects like this, no way to steer development in the right direction, and still doesn’t. Legal recourse to defend our individual properties was the only recourse for those neighboring this project; we spent thousands of hours and dollars defending our turf when the County seemed uninterested and unable to do so. The County, having no legible growth policy, simply “bailed”.
If this current development application passes through the County approval process unchecked and unaltered, we neighbors in the County will be forced to live close to the biggest, most formidable suburban sprawl development in Talbot County, a complete strip mall outlet stores off Route fifty (just like Kent Island). There’s the added insult living next to health-threatening spray irrigation wastewater system impact many local properties sensitive wetlands nearby, impacting many colonial-era historic sites, and other susceptible wetlands, park quality woodlands, and breeding areas that are adjacent to the place it is slated to deposit up to one million gallons of sewage per day into the fields and adjacent wetland areas.
There are myriad failures of these wastewater systems, and MDE has continued to approve without hesitation. During the last 2009 attempt at MDE permitting, The developer succeeded in subverting the required county comprehensive plan approval process and wondered if the MDE approval process was legal.
“Five years’ worth of state and locals records obtained by The Center for Public Integrity reveal an unprecedented and, at least temporarily, successful campaign by Trappe to go around the normally required county approval to get permission for the upgrades directly from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). While it is unclear if any laws were broken, state officials now say they are looking into the matter. And while the recession has temporarily shelved the development, questions over the legality and propriety of what happened remain unresolved….. Talbot County officials said they did not know Trappe had received the MDE permit to construct a 540,000-gallon-a-day sewer plant until earlier this year when the town sought — and later withdrew its application for — a $21 million federal stimulus grant to build the plant and a water tower. Talbot County Council President Philip Carey Foster said in August that the council had asked MDE Secretary Shari Wilson why the state granted the construction permit – but as of mid-November hadn’t received an answer. “Hopefully the permits can be rescinded as improperly granted,” said Foster…………… Trappe East developer Robert Rauch of Easton asked about the status of development and the state review of the permits, said he was “not aware of MDE taking a look at it. We have our permits, and that is all I know.”…………Foster said the council was “troubled” that Trappe was able to get the permits without county approval. “If the project would go forward,” he said, “it would change the community forever.”….
BY THE CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY, 2009
New Better Tools:
Over the past forty years, there has been a vast revolution in the Planning and Zoning world that uses new tools, three dimensional, and graphic criteria to show what the end product to shape a project this size. The problem is there is no professional nor in-house expertise to take on the creation of the most essential up-to-date planning tools.
If Talbot County is remotely interested in getting a more thoughtful progressive approach to grow along the lines of its past villages ( as it says it intends to in its 2016 Comp. plan) then it needs to develop tools to promote smart growth as state policy, learn to embrace smart growth and its standards and new design metrics, and try not to fight growth for its own sake, don’t just say no, SHAPE IT!
New growth can be good; development does not mean a diminished environment or degradation of lifestyle. It must be shaped, guided, and planned for. It’s time to completely rethink our growth policy and plan for the future. How many more lessons do we have to learn using a failed policy.