Capital Editorial: “Annapolis development will be an election issue in 2017”

Capital Gazette: June 21, 2016

By: Capital Gazette Editorial Board

Legendary Annapolis real estate entrepreneur Lou Hyatt once observed when asked about traffic on Forest Drive that no one should expect to drive it at 50 mph, it is a city street and traffic is always going to be an issue.

So it was no surprise Sunday when Alan Hyatt, Lou’s son and successor as the personification of development in Annapolis, said something similar in our story exploring the possibility of solutions to congestion on that same road:

“A person on the far end of Forest Drive shouldn’t be able to tell a landowner on the other side whether they can build,” Hyatt said.

Is Hyatt right?

There’s an old maxim in real estate, that if you like the view buy it. The notion is that you don’t have rights to something to someone else owns. It’s a property rights argument, and it’s deeply connected to who we are as a culture.

Hyatt’s notion is that individuals have a right to develop their property to its fullest value within the limits set by government. Public roads support development, so it’s an unfair taking way one individual’s property value when another individual property owner claims primacy over who gets to use the roads.

If Hyatt’s view expresses one view of this dilemma, then County Councilman Chris Trumbauer’s represents the second.

What’s needed, he in our article Sunday, is a city-county partnership to look at and slow down development, while coming up with longer-term solutions.

“You can add me to the chorus of voices (saying) that we have to stop the bleeding,” Trumbauer said.

Consider his idea akin to “The Tragedy of the Commons.” A simple version goes like this: If everyone tries to take the greatest benefit from a given resource, the demand will overwhelm the supply. Anyone who consumes an additional unit of the resource directly harms others who can no longer enjoy the benefits.

Who is right? They both are. That’s the conundrum facing Annapolis.

These two views, equally valid, are at the center of the riddle of Annapolis growth. How you respond to either statement is a litmus test on a whole range of related issues facing Annapolis: adequate facilities, Crystal Spring, traffic and even jobs.

Deciding the balance between the two views will require a political will that doesn’t exist yet. Given the traffic-jam pace with which we seem to be inching toward potential solutions, it’s easy to see that this will be an issue in the 2017 city elections.

Although we are still months away from the start of the next municipal election cycle, and only city voters will get a say, it’s clear the outcome of a property rights vs. growth control debate will central to many issues now on the table.

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