Real Estate Development Always At Issue in Montgomery County Elections

UPDATE: For more on economic development and growth in Montgomery County, past and future, please see my post, “Contemplating Life Inside An Economic Engine,” at the TheSeventhState political blog,  http://www.theseventhstate.com

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Most Americans outside the beltway* are justified in thinking that the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is a one-company town, and that company is the U.S. government with its myriad contractors.

But here in Montgomery County, MD, the industry with political clout, decade after decade, is real estate development. It’s always a lucrative proposition. Start with some relatively inexpensive farmland, rough-in a few roads and water and sewer, build housing, and sell the added value for a tidy profit. Styles change — ticky-tacky ranchers, split-levels, townhouses, McMansions, luxury apartments or condos — but the concept remains the same.

An example of the modern residential construction style, the four-story rectangle with pitched roof. It allows somewhat denser development than the three-story garden apartments of the 20th  century.

An example of the modern residential construction style, the four-story rectangle with pitched roof. It allows somewhat denser development than the three-story garden apartments of the 20th century. This one is in Germantown.

Development has been a political issue in every local election for as long as I can remember. The slogans are short and sweet: No Growth, Slow Growth, Managed Growth, Smart Growth.

Sometimes the focus appears to be on related construction, such as adequate schools, highways, pubic transit, even parks and open space.**  The undercurrent is always development. Some recent twists have been fill-in development and redevelopment.

Election 2014 will be more of the same. If anything, the focus on development has been reinvigorated by the recent debate regarding Ten Mile Creek and Clarksburg. Bill Turque of The Washington Post has a concise story today highlighting the influence of developers on Montgomery County local politics. It’s a little bit “inside baseball,” but it might be a good introduction for voters new to the area.

The proximate subject is the Democratic primary contest for the District 1 County Council seat between Roger Berliner and Dutchy Trachtenberg.  The tantalizing story is a political fund-raiser associated with the development community calling the Sierra Club “the most vicious anti-development, anti-growth organization in the country.” For the record, the Sierra Club endorsed Berliner over Trachtenberg.

The “most vicious anti-development” trash talk is only a passing tempest in a long campaign season. But for any new MoCo voter, the story pulls back the curtain on the role of political contributions by real estate development interests. Montgomery county is home to a million people. Candidates for County Executive and the nine County Council seats face about a million pounds of pressure from all sorts of interests, with developers supplying much of the tonnage. Developer interests, as might be expected, are usually at odds with environmental concerns.

A secondary insight from the story is the role of candidate endorsements by influential interest groups such as the Sierra Club. Every imaginable interest group throughout the state is pestering candidates with questionnaires, with endorsements often forthcoming for the right answers. However, endorsements are sometimes often made in arbitrary fashion behind closed doors. In many cases, endorsements go almost automatically to incumbents, rather than challengers.

— John Hayden

* Maybe it’s time to retire “inside the beltway” and replace it with “inside the InterCounty Connector.”

** In the early days of suburbia, country club golf courses were often cited as “open space.”

Any thoughts on the wild world of nearly unlimited campaign money?

“Whomperjawed” (via The Clueless Farmer)

Légumes

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The “Clueless Farmhand” has now become the “Clueless Farmer.” Step one (buy a few acres with a livable house) is complete.

Sounds like the new farmer-entrepreneur, Diana, and her husband, will be focusing on the chicken business, and also growing quite a variety of vegetables. Diana, aka “Farmer Di” and “Doodi,” is methodically learning all she can about how to be a successful part of the “local-food” movement. Click on the Clueless Farmer’s report below.  Her post includes lots of links to useful farming information.

This is a serious career-change event. Diana says: “My completely awesome husband turned down a perfectly decent and lucrative office job in favor of farming for a subsistence income.”

The real farming begins this week, with “100 fluffy day-old chicks and about 500 seedlings of various vegetables.” That sounds feasible on five acres, with some room for expansion.

If it works, the small-farm movement has potential to provide a great lifestyle, along with a modest income, for thousands of workers who would otherwise be stuck in dead-end jobs, and living in suburbia.

Producing and consuming our food locally (including organic food) makes sense, and it can improve our food security in times of shortages.

We closed on our 5+ acre “farmette,” somewhat disconcertingly noted by our bank’s appraiser as being a “suburban” home (by rural standards), this morning. We’re officially terrified. All our pretty plans on how much we need to spend to get so much revenue from so many square feet of some specific vegetable or chicken species seem suddenly very ethereal when juxtaposed with our actual expenses. I have been in Madison County, VA for 4+ days now, fo … Read More

via The Clueless Farmer

Property Virgins (via The Clueless Farm Hand)

The Virginia welcome sign at the Virginia welc...

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Update! Update! The Clueless Farmhands have a deal to buy their Virginia farm, complete with livable house. The bank suddenly decided to OK the short sale. See their update post here. It contains a long list of things they have to do to get the farm running this Spring. (Far from a leisurely idyllic existence, farming is probably more like endless work and 24-7 responsibility.) But I guess you’re your own boss and can work at your own pace, so far as Mother Nature allows. If the Clueless Farmhands can pull it off, maybe other people can do it! Opens up your limited career and lifestyle options, doesn’t it? Do you think you could do it?

End of Update.

You’ve had the fantasy. Admit it. What you really want is a few acres of farmland and a house. You’d like to buy it dirt cheap, because it IS mostly dirt, after all.

You want to chuck the career and the credit cards. Tell your boss to take this job and . . . Escape from the materialism, the congestion, the commute.

You’d trade it all in for freedom and simplicity. Life on the farm.

The Clueless Farmhand couple has done what you dream of doing. They’ve searched five counties in rural Virginia. They’ve looked at single-wides, double-wides, and actual houses. They think they’re ready to take the plunge.

I suspect most folks in Consternation-land will find their story enlightening. At last report . . .

Property Virgins You would think during these days of foreclosures it would be easy to pick up a nice old farmhouse with a bit of land and some serviceable outbuildings for a song. For the past six months or so … Read More

via The Clueless Farm Hand

March 9, 2011 Update: The Clueless Farm Hand has posted an update, detailing the bumpy road to buying a distressed property via a short sale. I had heard that buying real estate through foreclosures and short sales could be problematic, but this was an eye-opener for me. — John Hayden