12 September 2010

The Alan Klein Disinformation Campaign Hits Home

As we move toward Primary Election Day, I was a little surprised to receive a mailer from the Klein Campaign.  Looking it over, I have to say, I’m impressed.  On one side Alan has put together a pair of grainy black and white images showing traffic and tall buildings and inserted between them his characterization of the downtown Columbia plan.  Below this, he asserts what he believes was left out of the plan.  From a graphical presentation standpoint, it’s pretty good.  However, the actual text on the card is fraught with hyperbole, bad information, and flat out lies.  

ak flier-1

If I had been sleeping for the last five years and had to make a decision on who to vote for based on this mailer, I too would engage in the invective and vituperation that has become barbaralynnerussell’s blog.

So in the public interest, let’s take a look at what Alan says and what is the truth:

Assertion:  Unbridled growth will ruin Columbia and Howard County

In addressing this assertion, I will take a page from CA Board member Phil Kirsh (WL), who shares with Alan Klein the endorsement of current State Delegate Bobo, and look some words up in the dictionary.  As defined by the Merriam-Webster website, unbridled is – unrestrained.  So the test here would be – are there any restraints on growth in downtown Columbia?

In examining the unanimously passed downtown zoning and General Plan Amendments, it appears that there are restraints placed on downtown development.  First, the number of dwelling units in downtown Columbia is limited (restrained) to 5500 units.  Moreover, the 5500-unit limit is a ceiling, and not a guarantee.  The units in downtown are further restrained by the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which restricts development based on traffic conditions and school capacity.  Lastly, future development is further restrained based on the delivery of downtown amenities that are to be provided by the developer.

Result:  The term “unbridled” is misplaced and a gross exaggeration.  There is significant evidence that growth is limited in several ways.  To characterize downtown Columbia planning as without restraint is misleading the electorate.

Assertion: Higher Taxes for Howard County Residents

This assertion is a broadside that, if candidate Klein was being responsible, would be further defined.  In fact, I find it surprising that he would include this in his literature given his repeated public shortcomings on understanding the County budget.

I will take liberty in assuming that Klein’s assertion is based on the cost of infrastructure (roads, traffic mitigation, etc), county taxes must increase.  This premise hangs in opposition to the language in the recently enacted Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.  This ordinance explicitly states that developers in downtown Columbia must pay the cost of roads and traffic mitigation.  So in the narrow definition based on my assumption, the stated assertion is a complete falsehood. 

Inherent in Mr. Klein’s campaign is his support of a position paper that calls for “about 1600 units” in downtown Columbia.  In his alternate development scenario, much of the road network that is to be constructed under the current plan would have to be constructed for his plan.  As I have stated above, the developer must pay for the infrastructure when downtown property is developed.  However, after development is completed, the maintenance, upkeep, and snow removal costs are transferred to the County, and therefore the taxpayers.

What Mr. Klein does not address is the balance of development, roughly 3900 units.  Given the amount of land in Howard County Councilmanic District 4 that has already been developed and transferred into private ownership, it is unlikely that any of the 3900 units would remain in District 4.  Therefore, Mr. Klein by default is advocating for the development of 3900 units in another Howard County district. 

If we once again limit the assumed increase in taxpayer costs to infrastructure costs, Mr. Klein’s plans will cost the taxpayer dearly.  In this part of the discussion it is also important to recognize that Mr. Klein (as stated in his position paper) does not favor buildings more than a few stories tall.  Therefore, I believe it is a safe assumption that a development on the scale of 3900 units that Mr. Klein would endorse would look something like a Columbia neighborhood or village.  I would remind the reader that the linear miles of road constructed in downtown Columbia would be equal under the approved plan or Klein’s vision.  Compare that road maintenance cost with the additional cost of maintaining a road network similar to another neighborhood or village.  I took it upon myself to utilize Google Maps and Google Earth to calculate the linear road miles of three areas of Columbia for comparison.  I would assume an error of 10% (plus or minus) in the linear miles calculation.  Dwelling unit numbers were obtained from the U.S Census (2000) for Kendall Ridge and the Columbia Association Public Information Guide for Dorsey’s Search and Kings Contrivance. 

  • The neighborhood of Kendall Ridge is located in Long Reach, has 2,390 dwelling units and is supported by a road network of 15 miles. 
  • The Village of Dorsey’s Search has 3,368 dwelling units and is supported by a road network of 16 miles. 
  • The Village of Kings Contrivance has 4,025 dwelling units and is supported by a road network of 21 miles.

Given the above data, I believe it is a safe estimate that the 3,900 units that Klein does not account for would require a road network of 18 miles.  Taken over the thirty years of development, the added costs of road maintenance and snow removal would further burden the county budget beyond the downtown Columbia development.  In addition, it is a conservative estimate that roads would have to be resurfaced at least once during the development cycle.  According to data from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the cost associated with milling and resurfacing a 4-lane road costs approximately $1.25 million per mile.  With a supporting road network of 18-miles, Klein’s unbuilt village would incur a resurfacing cost of $22.5 million to the county during the development period laid out in the downtown Columbia plan. 

A final consideration is that all fiscal studies performed in relation to downtown Columbia development has shown a net positive cash flow to the county.  One additional study should also be considered.  This study, written by Sarasota County Director of Smart Growth Peter Katz, compared traditional growth patterns to mixed use downtown development.  Mr. Katz found that when measured on a per-acre basis, mixed use development yields far more income to the local government than traditional suburban development.  As reported by Mary Newsom, traditional single family home development returned approximately $8200/acre to the local municipality.  Compare this with the following passage in the article:

Indeed, that three-quarters of an acre of in-town urban-style (14- to 16-story) development is worth more property tax revenue than a combination of the 21-acre WalMart Supercenter and the 32-acre Southgate Mall.
Even a mid rise (up to about seven stories) mixed use building brings in $560,000, and the low rise (up to three stories with residential over retail) brings in over $70,000 per acre — more than three times the return of Southgate Mall.

Now the tax structure in Sarasota, FL does not correlate directly with Howard County, MD, but the ratios do correlate.  It is also important to state that very few buildings in downtown Columbia will be in the 14-16 story variety and far more will be in the 0-7 story category.

In addition, Katz also calculated the infrastructure Return on Investment for both in-town mixed use and traditional suburban development.  If the 3900 that Klein does not discuss are built in downtown, the County should see a robust return on investment.  If the 3900 are built in another district, the return will be lower.  Again, from the article:

But Katz and the group that worked with him on the tax analysis, Public Interest Projects, Inc., in Asheville (http://www.pubintproj.com/index.php), N.C., went further than just the revenue analysis. It looked at the payback time, in tax revenue, for the infrastructure costs of various types of residential developments. The payback time for a mixed-use condominium building in the heart of downtown was three years. Want to guess the payback time for the residential portion of a multi-use development out at a highway interchange? It was a whopping 42 years.

It is also worth noting that Sarah covered this very well earlier this year.

Result:  Given the vague assertion that development would directly cause higher taxes, Mr. Klein gives no supporting evidence.  Compare this with fiscal studies performed by professionals that indicate the opposite; the county would see a net increase in revenue.  Mr. Klein also fails to fully explain how under his leadership how 5500 units built anywhere in the county would not increase the tax burden on residents.  Ultimately his assertion must be characterized at a minimum as unproven and more likely a falsehood.

Assertion: Developers given a tax free ride

This assertion certainly sounds like something to get stirred up about.  Why would developers get a free ride on taxes?  Quelle horreur!  But there are two big problems here.  The first is that a State law provides this particular tax break for developers, not county law.  So if Mr. Klein is asserting that the current County Councilperson could have done anything about this, he is dead wrong.  Moreover, if he thinks that he can change State law from the Howard County legislative chambers, he is sorely mistaken.  I wrote about this when Taxpayers Against Giveaways was pushing this misrepresentation, please click over  and take a look for details.  To her credit, current State Delegate Liz Bobo did introduce legislation to change this a few years ago, but failed to garner enough support for the bill to be passed.  If Mr. Klein is looking for blame for a preferential tax structure, he should look to his matriarch, not his competition.

Secondly, the tax break afforded developers is only on unimproved property.  Most of the land associated with downtown Columbia development has already been developed; therefore, any tax break that remains is small and will expire when a shovel goes in the ground.

Result:  This assertion has nothing to do with the County Council position and to imply the zoning decision resulted in an additional tax break for any developer is beyond falsehood, this is a “pants on fire” lie.

Assertion: The downtown Columbia plan did not “Provide sufficient open space”

Funny thing about this assertion.  Thirty years ago, the amount of open space in Town Center was not a concern.  As Town Center has developed over the years, trees were cleared for parking lots, office buildings, and residents.  Much of that development was enthusiastically backed by Alan Klein’s fervent supporters.  Bobo backed tearing down trees and converting open space into the Central Library and parking lot (even in the face of vocal opposition and sit-ins).  If you touch Cy Paumier, he is proud to say that it was his idea to convert the tree-covered commercial sites on the west side of the mall into condo units.  After the Evergreen was constructed (opposite Windstream Drive, along Governor Warfield Parkway), the discussion of open space went dormant.

The current downtown plan emphatically states that all open space in downtown Columbia must be preserved at current levels.  If any property owner wishes to construct anything on open space in downtown Columbia, they must purchase and place into open space an equivalent amount of land, in downtown.  A perfect example of this is the Symphony Woods Park plan that Mr. Klein whole-heartedly endorses.  The Symphony Woods Plan calls for more than an acre of parking (120-150 spaces) adjacent to the park.  Because parking lots are not considered open space, the Columbia Association will be required to purchase an equal amount of land and convert it to open space.

Beyond the general discussion of open space in downtown Columbia, Mr. Klein states on the opposite side of the same mailing card states that he will “Promote measures to…preserve open space” [emphasis mine].  So while he chastises others for “not providing sufficient open space,” he calls for “preserving open space.”  Not increasing open space.

Result:  In this assertion, Mr. Klein attempts to make a case that he himself has not committed to.  Moreover, he supports paving over some open space for a parking lot.  At best, this is a misdirection.

Assertion:  The Columbia downtown plan did not “Create housing opportunities for all”

Mr. Klein has a mixed record on affordable housing, where it goes, and who pays for it.  As reported in the Baltimore Sun:

Klein's position on low-income housing in a rebuilt Wilde Lake Village Center appeared to vary somewhat from what he told a different audience during a forum sponsored Saturday by the African American Coalition at Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church on Cedar Lane.
There, he and Sigaty said village residents believe there is already substantial subsidized housing in the community and are concerned that requiring it in new units built at the village center might create too great a concentration. "There's already a significant spectrum of housing in Wilde Lake," Klein said.
But Tuesday night, Klein added to his general criticism of the housing portion of the downtown plan by saying there is no requirement for affordable housing at the Wilde Lake center. He called the omissions "a violation of Columbia's values."

I also think the African Americans in Howard County letter to Explore Howard and posted by HoCoRising characterizes the issue far better than I could attempt to explain.

Result:  Klein has waffled on this subject and fails to connect his vision with a concrete plan.

Assertion:  The downtown Columbia plan does not “provide for schools sites, fire or police stations, build parking garages, adequate sidewalks and other infrastructure to support their projects”

Alan either has not read or is hoping no one will read what is actually in the downtown zoning or general plan amendment.  Infrastructure requirements (as he calls them) are built into the plan and Alan knows it.  He is trying to create a smokescreen of fear.  A clear example of this can be found on Columbia 2.0

Result:  This assertion goes to the core of what is wrong with Alan’s campaign.  Chalk up another lie for the man who lives in Hobbits Glen.


As the primary campaign nears its end, Alan Klein continues to engage in lies, gross exaggerations, and otherwise conduct a campaign of fear in District 4.  It is becoming apparent that as the final hours tick away, Mr. Klein will resort to any means to secure a win.  It is my hope that the electorate in District 4 will turn away from this distasteful campaign.


reasonfreely said...

Here's my concern: There is a difference between the DEVELOPERS' plan and the GOVERNMENT'S plan.

The DEVELOPERS' plan is a 30-year plan to build stuff that profits them, including retail space, parking, and residential units. I have no doubt that the developers will do a good job, especially since I've read the GGP documents. The concern that the developer needs to contribute more towards roads and parking is a valid concern. The developer has already offered money for ONE school, which is what I consider the barest of bare minimums.

The GOVERNMENT'S plan is different from the developer's plan. (Assuming the developer doesn't have the government in their pocket, in which case...) The government needs to give us a concrete plan for road, water, sewer and infrastructure development, enrollment predictions and school building plans, green space preservation and development, police and fire support infrastructure, and budget
predictions including possible taxes.

The Town Center Plan supporters (Sigaty, for instance) are DEVELOPER plan supporters. They have not given us a concrete GOVERNMENT plan for all the above.

So your response to the Klein mailing is valid. There's a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration. I used to work in political direct mail, and bullet-point hyperbole is sort of par for the course. Your critique misses the point: Before I vote for the Sigaty crew, I need to hear what their plan is for providing the necessary county government services that these 5,500 new homes (possibly 16,500 new Columbians) will need.

Supporting the GGP plan without telling us the plan for providing County infrastructure is like... Like supporting the Wegmans plan without talking about traffic patterns on McGaw, Dobbin and Snowden River.

reasonfreely said...

To put it another way, the developer plan is probably going to do a great job providing retail space for a Starbucks, making all the shopping walkable for residents, creating beautiful homes, and probably building up the already-wealthy HoCo tax base.

I'm no libertarian, but whether we support or oppose stuff like what the houses will look like and where the new shops are going to go doesn't seem like the most important concern for the local government. The Howard County Government should be concerned with governmenty things, like enrollment predictions, school construction, roads/traffic/parking, water/sewer/power grid, police/fire/EMS/hospital capacity, green space/environmental impact, etc.

I don't vote based on how profitable the Starbucks is going to be. I vote based on things like how many more kids are going to be stuffed into my local elementary school in 2015 while the Board of Education rushes to build a school they could have predicted they would need in 2010. Or how much they have to raise my taxes because they didn't do a highway capacity study in advance of improving the GGP plan and demand a significant contribution from the developer as a precondition. Or whether the developer is going to have to convert spaces to meters and re-designate lots to "resident only" because the County didn't do a study to determine if GGP needed to build a garage -- or, if they can't afford a study, playing it safe and demanding a new garage just in case (Merriweather's parking "lot" will be replaced with office buildings in the Plan, and the plan claims Merriweather events can just use the office lots; but if the Shoppes are overflowing into the office lots in the evenings...).

brian said...

First he compares the downtown plan to the war in Iraq and now he is spreading lies about it. Columbia can't afford to have somebody like this representing us on the County Council. Vote for Sigaty!

Greg said...

Young man, as the prior 2 posters said, this is all politics. Dont ever think for 1 sec, Sigaty is not in the payroll of the developers as are half the elected folks...ITS THE WAY THE SYSTEM WORKS. To try and put useless lists and points at length is like trying to support either democrat or repub while ignoring the unions/ and or corporate sponsors they represent disproportionately.
We people can see what is going on... we watching and intend to put the developers and government at their word when time comes.Whether they file bankruptcy like the other one did with its crazy, reckless expansionist plans or through pay-to play like PGC, we will know.
Columbians are smarter than you may think. There is that segment who will be misled, but by and large the truth will be apparent eventually.
To the general public, note closely what you are promised in your village and shun the BS.