I am writing in opposition to the application for Talbot County to transfer to the Town of Easton approximately sixty-five acres of its Maryland Critical Area Growth Allocation in order to facilitate the Proposed Poplar Hill development.
An entity named 5001 SHR L.C. proposes to build approximately 439 homes, townhouses and apartments, 60,000 square feet of commercial space, and multi-purpose sports fields on a 120 acre parcel near the intersection of the Eason Parkway and the Oxford Road. It would evidently be the largest proposed development in Easton in many years.
Easton has already reached the limit of its Maryland Critical Area Growth Allocation, so the project cannot proceed as planned unless Talbot County transfers to Easton 65 acres of its own separate Allocation. This should not occur for several compelling reasons.
First, Talbot County should preserve its own Critical Area Growth Allocation in order to address future development needs in the county. Otherwise, it could be hamstrung regarding future developments. In contrast, Easton has already reached its allocated limit, and it would be a fundamental subversion of the system of allocations for various governmental entities to transfer their allocations between one and other in the manner proposed.
Second, I understand that some such transfers have nevertheless occurred sometimes in the past, but none approaching this amount. Thus, the current proposal represents an extremely large and unprecedented distortion of Critical Area Growth Allocations. For that reason as well, it should be denied.
Third, there are persuasive reasons in this particular case why such a transfer should not be made. First of all, at the recent public hearing, concerned citizens emphatically weighed in. The developer brought in a team of paid consultants, which understandably supported its case. But every other single commenter strongly opposed the proposed development.
Talbot County respectfully should not reach out and make this unprecedented transfer of Growth Allocations when its constituents are on record as being unanimously opposed. After all, who as County Commissioners, are the Talbot County Commissioners elected to represent? This project evokes the recent memory of the Lakeside development in Trappe, where similarly there have been extensive, long-standing emphatic protests from the community. The county commissioners respectfully should avoid an analogous situation arising here. To the extent that there may be a need for additional housing in the nearby area, it is already being served by the controversial Lakeside development. The council respectfully should not pour kerosine on the fire at Poplar Hill Farm.
I won’t reiterate every specific objection that was presented at the public meeting. However, the purpose of the Maryland Critical Area Program is “to protect the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal shorelines.” And under Section 190-2.2, a key objective is to “Preserve the County’s existing rural character and quality of life.” Obviously, the proposed development based on an unprecedented transfer of such as large amount of Critical Area Growth Allocation flies directly in the face of that simple but extremely important requirement. Here, it would instead enable a development that is typical of what is commonly encountered in large metropolitan areas, like DC and Baltimore. Many of us live in Talbot County because we choose a different lifestyle, the retention of which is the express purpose of the Maryland Critical Area Program. Thus, the application should additionally be denied, because it is antithetical to the overarching purpose of the Maryland Critical Area Program.
The proposed development would also cause a major and avoidable strain on existing infrastructure. Let me give two primary examples. At a subsequent meeting of the Oxford Town Commissioners, our elected Talbot County education representative represented that the nearby schools are already at capacity. It is my understanding from a recent visit to the hospital, that current staff is already sometimes struggling to adequately serving current users.
Adding 439 additional homes will invariably make matters way worse. It is critically important that the county provide sufficient educational and hospital facilities. Even if you consider such specialized uses as indoor tennis, there are only four indoor courts at the YMCA virtually across the street from the proposed development, which are already heavily utilized during wet conditions and in colder months for both tennis and pickleball. Will the developer pay for the additional educational, hospital, and other facilities and infrastructure that would be necessitated by the proposed development? I assume that the answer is no.
The proposed development also includes 60,000 square feet of additional commercial space. From what I have observed, there is already a substantial amount of underutilized commercial space in Easton, some of which is at the nearby major mall where the Easton Parkway intersects with Marlboro. Further, the media has been reporting extensively that many businesses are currently contracting nationwide and in some instances are filing for bankruptcy. There is certainly no pressing need to approve the Poplar Hill Farm development due to a current acute shortage of commercial space in this area.
Finally, traffic is a major concern. The Star Democrat reported that at the public hearing, Planning Commission member Victoria McAndrews agreed that the vehicle increase from the development, which could climb to well over 800 cars, could create a “tremendous amount of traffic” on the Oxford Road. That is painfully and undeniably true. One of the developers experts stated that in his view the traffic would not exceed standards that may apply elsewhere or nationally, but should not be applied in a relatively quiet rural setting, such as the Oxford Road. If the development were to proceed, one way to mitigate that would be to route the traffic in the other direction with an exit directly onto the Easton Parkway.
In conclusion, the Talbot County Commissioners should not approve the unprecedented 65 acres of its Critical Area Growth Allocation to Easton, which has already reached its limit, in order to facilitate the development of a project at odds with the rural character of the area, where there is no apparent need for the project, where the record indicates that the project is strongly opposed by your constituents, and where it would have major adverse impacts including on existing infrastructure and traffic. If you in my view unwisely should approve the current application, you should not expect the controversy to end there. You can hopefully avoid a very contentious longterm dispute by rejecting the current application.
If you have any questions or would like to address the issues further, please feel free to contact me. Thank you in advance for your consideration of my comments.