Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Attack of the Evil Developers

What is the deal with all of this negativity towards developers?

It seems to be fair game in this political season to attack the opponent as being in the developers pocket as if this was akin to dancing with devil himself. Developers (and they come in all shapes and sizes) seem to have become the root of all that is wrong in the county.

I guess they are an easy mark. They are a small constituency, they tear up the land, and they give money to politicians. Bad boys all around.

Yet consider this...Jim Rouse was first and foremost a developer. True he had many altruistic leanings but he understood that you needed to make a profit.

And this...developers not only contribute to political campaigns (and since when did that become a bad thing...didn't Tip O'Neil say that money was the mothers milk of politics?) they also give generously to community causes. In fact I would wager that, as a group, developers support more community events than our local technology companies do.

And what do they get in return?


The development business is a risky proposition. Developers place bets on where the economy will be two years from now. That is the average time it takes from conceiving a project to generating revenue from it. During that time they spend a great deal of money in legal fees, architectural fees, engineering fees, construction loans, permit fees and so on. In the end, if the economy goes sour, they run the risk of losing everything while they try to salvage their investment.

They also subject themselves to more input from the general public than any other private business.

What do you imagine a community would look like without developers?

Those are the comments I would be interested in hearing.


Anonymous said...

I've been confused about this, too, for the last couple years. It's an odd contridiction: so much deference for Jim Rouse and so much hatred for "developers."

Of course, a lot of developers are bad, but that's not reason for such negative generalizations. If anything, it speaks to the importance of getting to know our developers and working with them to ensure the community of our future reflects our shared vision. Fighting all developers and development serves mainly to alienate both sides and eliminate any potential for collaboration.

Anonymous said...

Welcome. Nice post.

Not all developers are bad. However, like every other group out there, there is a bell curve ranging from bad/incompetent to average to altruistic/consistently excellent. This bell curve can be found in every industry and profession. It's because the bell curve exists that diligence is necessary.

And when development occurs that drastically and permanently changes the daily status quo, of course public scrutiny will occur.

Every business is a risky proposition. Any business run in a manner that "risks losing it all" is arguably being run irresponsibly, more appropriately called a gamble than a business.

More input than any other private business? Hilarious.

As to what a community would look like without developers, well I imagine a pretty quiet forest, birds chirping, wind rustling through the trees, with an Amish town nearby where folks just build a neighbor a mortgage-free house in a day and then go have a picnic. Is that evil?

wordbones said...

Nice fantasy of a world without developers but far from reality. The fact is we need places to conduct commerce, trade goods, worship, research, heal, educate, house the population and so on. Developers merely respond to the anticipated needs of the society. If the world did not want these things the developer would not exist.

David W. Keelan said...

Good post. It is a difficult balance. If developers fall into buckets then Jim Rouse stands as an example we would want all of them to emulate.

The risks are great and the reward are great in that business.

At the other end of the spectrum some developers focus on the rewards at all costs to the detriment of the community. Others, like Jim Rouse, try to change the formula.

Development won't stop any more than the economy will stop.

Working constructively with developers and other community and business interests in order to achieve the right balance to ensure everyone's rights are respected is not an easy job.

Anonymous said...

Bad developers give all developers a bad name. Ellicott City has grown way too fast without the necessary infrastructure in place. County leaders bear responsibility for the inadequate infrastructure. Columbia was a planned city - what a luxury that Ellicott City never had. Jim Rouse was a hero, a visionary. Ellicott City needs leadership in county government to fight for good development and the necessary infrastructure. Someone who actually cares what happens and has the will, dedication, and perserverance to do it.

Anonymous said...

Developers endure more scrutiny because development (for whatever purpose residential or commercial) has HUGE impacts on the community. Traffic generation, school capacity, noise, loss of tree cover, etc. I think most people, including myself, accept development as part of progress. But, there is a point at which an area just can not support any more development(ie: traffic is so congested that any additional traffic just can not be handled), even if all of the land is not completely developed. There's the rub. It's not fair (or legal) to prohibit someone from developing their land in some reasonable fashion.

At the risk of catching a lot of flak from the devouted Jim Rouse worshippers, I would like to point out something that many people may not be aware of, or just to overlook. Jim Rouse was not quite the humanitarian he has been painted to be. In putting together Columbia, he had to acquire thousands of acres of land. It is a fact that he forces some landowners (mostly farmers) off of their land so he could acquire it. Back in those days, farmers had driveways that crossed other farmers property, an agreement by handshake since farmers could trust other farmers. If a farmer didn't want to sell to Jim Rouse, he would acquire the front piece, cut off access to the farmer in the rear, and the farmer would have his property foreclosed. So, Jim Rouse's utopianistic vision of Columbia, was somewhat founded on "stealing" land from poor farmers. If that isn't a little bit of hypocrisy, I don't know what is.

And, he is not the first, nor last developer, to undertake such unscrupulous actions in order to acquire desirable property.

wordbones said...

Anonymous (whoever you are),

You bring up an interesting point when you mention Ellicott City. I have long wondered where Ellicott City's boundaries stretch to. Is Turf Valley in Ellicott City?

They claim they are.

Where does Ellicott City end and Elkridge begin?

Hovnanian Homes claims their Cider Mill development is in Ellicott City yet it really appears to be in Elkridge.

Even the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search is actually in an Ellicott City zip code.

All that being said, I agree that there has been some bad development in parts of the county outside of Columbia...but there have also some notable good projects. I would classify Maple Lawn in Fulton as one of the best planned developments in the State.

Anonymous said...

Ellicott City ends and Elkridge begins somewhere around Landing Road if you follow Montgomery Road toward Route One. East EC and part of West EC is in CC District One. The rest of western EC is in CC District Five.

Anonymous said...

Last time I checked, the Amish, too, have "places to conduct commerce, trade goods, worship, research, heal, educate, house the population and so on." So, not quite a fantasy. Obviously, some societies do *opt* to have developers. Many, in reality, get by without.

wordbones said...

You know what?
You are absolutely right. If you want to live in an Amish society that option is certainly available to you and in that case there is no need for developers. On the other hand, the vast majority of the people who live in Howard County would rather live in a world that offers a little more variety and intellectual stimulation. It is nice to have choices.