Shoge of­fers pros of a Bay bridge to Kent

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By LEANN SCHENKE [email protected]­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — When it comes down to it, the ar­gu­ment for or against a third cross­ing of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is driven by what is the best way to help Kent County.

Sam Shoge pre­sented “Reimag­in­ing the Sta­tus Quo: Why Chang­ing De­mo­graph­ics and Na­tional Trends Should Make Kent County Res­i­dents Re­con­sider the Mean­ing of Preser­va­tion” dur­ing a Bay Bridge Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee meeting Nov. 28.

Shoge, a self-pro­claimed data and statis­tics en­thu­si­ast, pre­vi­ously served on the Chestertown Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and the town coun­cil. He was born and raised in Chestertown and owns a home here.

As the state con­tin­ues a years-long study of where to po­ten­tially build a third Bay

cross­ing, Shoge pre­sented a “data driven” ar­gu­ment us­ing num­bers and trends on the lo­cal and na­tional level to ex­plain the ben­e­fits of a bridge land­ing in Kent County.

He said Kent County’s pop­u­la­tion is de­clin­ing de­spite Mary­land’s over­all pop­u­la­tion in­creas­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, he said Kent County is the third old­est county in re­gards to the age of its cit­i­zens.

Shoge pro­vided num­bers on how Kent County’s re­cov­ery from the Great Re­ces­sion com­pares with na­tional trends.

“We had just about 10 years of eco­nomic ex­pan­sion and re­cov­ery af­ter the Great Re­ces­sion; how­ever, the over­all pop­u­la­tion that is liv­ing in poverty here in Kent County had ac­tu­ally gone up,” Shoge said.

He said de­spite this, the num­ber of peo­ple in poverty is trend­ing down na­tion­wide.

Shoge then dis­cussed the is­sue of con­sis­tent de­clin­ing school en­roll­ment say­ing Kent County Pub­lic Schools is the small­est dis­trict in Mary­land and over­all en­roll­ment is ex­pected to de­crease.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he said home prices are down since 2007. How­ever, he said look­ing at home prices be­fore the re­ces­sion does not paint a fair pic­ture be­cause the na­tion was in “an ex­treme bull mar­ket.”

“But, again, it goes back to how long we’ve been in eco­nomic re­cov­ery. Ten years and our prices still have not re­bounded here in Kent County de­spite that num­ber ac­tu­ally re­bound­ing and sur­pass­ing pre-re­ces­sion lev­els in some of our sur­round­ing coun­ties,” Shoge said.

He said these is­sues are then re­flected in the county’s tax base.

“With a de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion and de­clin­ing home val­ues, it’s no won­der that our over­all tax base has gone down by nearly 10 per­cent since 2009. And this is pretty im­por­tant be­cause this tax base is es­sen­tially what pays for all of our ser­vices,” Shoge said.

He also cited de­clin­ing build­ing per­mits as a sign of stag­na­tion in the county.

“The rea­son why I am go­ing over some of these data points is re­ally not to preach doom and gloom. That’s re­ally not the in­tent nor the purpose of go­ing over some of those lo­cal data points. It’s re­ally to re­in­force the re­al­ity of what is cur­rently hap­pen­ing here in Kent County. And we need to let that re­al­ity kind of dic­tate how we plan for the fu­ture,” Shoge said.

Shoge also dis­cussed na­tional trends that might neg­a­tiv­ity im­pact Kent County. He said coun­ties with smaller pop­u­la­tions in ru­ral ar­eas of­ten see less busi­ness and the clos­ing of hos­pi­tals af­ter a re­ces­sion hits.

Shoge also cited the “sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges” fac­ing the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try na­tion­wide such as tar­iffs on soy beans, de­clin­ing de­mand for dairy and other

is­sues.

He said hunt­ing also is in de­cline na­tion­ally. He said from a tourism per­spec­tive, this is­sue “hit close to home.”

Shoge then pre­sented com­mon ar­gu­ments against a third cross­ing.

He dis­cussed the idea of self-driv­ing cars mak­ing a third cross­ing ob­so­lete. How­ever, he said there is no way to de­ter­mine when self-driv­ing cars will be main­stream and if they will in­crease or de­crease traf­fic con­ges­tion.

Shoge also dis­cussed the ar­gu­ment that Chestertown is thriv­ing.

“There a lot to be proud of,” Shoge said in re­gards to growth in Chestertown.

He said the ma­rina, devel­op­ment and new busi­ness are good and need to be cel­e­brated, but he said the num­ber of over­all busi­ness es­tab­lish­ments is down 17 per­cent since 2005.

Ad­di­tion­ally, to sta­bi­lize the school dis­trict, the county would need an in­flux of 1,000 of fam­i­lies, Shoge said.

He said an­other ar­gu­ment against a third cross­ing is to have an in­flux of mass tran­sit, which he said he sup­ports. He cau­tioned that mass tran­sit can be just as space-con­sum­ing as roads and that mass tran­sit is rarely suc­cess­ful un­less con­nect­ing ma­jor met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas.

“We can just do bet­ter. I mean we can, but what ex­actly does “do­ing bet­ter” mean? You can make an ar­gu­ment that it’s es­sen­tially stat­ues quo. It’s what we’ve been do­ing for decades and what we’ve been do­ing for decades has only yielded a lower pop­u­la­tion, a lower school en­roll­ment and de­clin­ing busi­ness es­tab­lish­ments,” Shoge said.

He said the most com­mon ar­gu­ment is Kent County will be­come an­other Middletown, Del. Shoge said 10 or 15 years ago that prob­a­bly would be true.

He said there would be “no way” he would have ad­vo­cate for third cross­ing even five years ago be­cause “devel­op­ment prac­tices where just not pre­dictable.”

He said af­ter the Great Re­ces­sion, there was a huge amount of con­struc­tion work­ers leav­ing the in­dus-

try cre­at­ing la­bor short­ages. He said now the av­er­age age of a con­struc­tion worker is 50 and only 6 per­cent of school-aged stu­dents say they are in­ter­ested in con­struc­tion trades.

“We’re go­ing to be look­ing at pro­longed la­bor short­ages in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, which is go­ing to make build­ing much more costly,” Shoge said.

He said sin­gle fam­ily homes are be­ing built less and less be­cause there is not a work­force to build them. In­stead, there is a na­tion­wide trend of mul­ti­fam­ily units be­ing built along with multi-use spa­ces.

“You’re go­ing to start see­ing much more dense neigh­bor­hoods com­prised of town­homes and con­do­mini­ums verses the large sub­ur­ban, big box-style devel­op­ment that was so com­mon lead­ing up to the Great Re­ces­sion,” Shoge said.

Shoge also cited malls be­ing at risk of clos­ing. He said malls have es­sen­tially been “ren­dered ob­so­lete” by on­line shop­ping as well as other re­lail spa­ces at risk of clos­ing.

“If we ex­pect to have any tax base as we go into the fu­ture, we need change and we need ma­jor change now,” Shoge said. “I think that was re­flected in the elec­tion where we have a very sud­den change in Kent County lead­er­ship.”

He said that can be at­trib­uted to many things, but he thinks it re­flects peo­ple want­ing an “over­all change in di­rec­tion of the county.”

And Shoge said the county needs a change. He said slow, or­ganic change has been the way for decades and asked “where are we now?”

“So re­ally what we should be fo­cus­ing on and what my over­all per­spec­tive is, is how do we max­i­mize the over­all ben­e­fits of bring­ing a third span to Kent County and how do we mit­i­gate those down­sides” Shoge said.

He said the county needs to think ahead.

He said hav­ing a re­tail square footage cap is a good thing be­cause it pre­vents large big box stores with large park­ing lots com­ing into the county.

“We don’t want that, we don’t need it and that’s why so many peo­ple look to Middletown as what we don’t want,” Shoge said.

He said the county also should ensure any new busi­ness that wants to come in fits with the ex­ist­ing busi­nesses.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he said also be­ing able to dic­tate how wa­ter and sewer ex­pands helps the county de­cides growth pat­terns.

He also sug­gested us­ing tolls to get off ma­jor roads as a so­lu­tion to clogged up lo­cal ac­cess roads. He cited Norther Vir­ginia’s toll road as an ex­am­ple.

He also sug­gested low­er­ing park­ing re­quire­ments to help ensure dense com­mu­ni­ties are built with less sprawl.

He cited Middletown as an ex­am­ple of “what we don’t want to see in Kent County” due to that ur­ban sprawl.

Shoge said Kent County could be hit hard in the next re­ces­sion, which the na­tion is over­due for. He said his per­spec­tive is preser­va­tion as well as trans­for­ma­tion.

Shoge said he knows his view point is not shared by the com­mu­nity. But he said those types of dis­agree­ments en­cour­age dis­cus­sion and cre­ative think­ing.

Shoge’s pre­sen­ta­tion was met with re­sis­tance from au­di­ence members who cited rea­sons such as un­con­trolled growth as well as in­creased crime.

“And why you would want to be hooked up with Bal­ti­more City and their crime rate, I can’t fig­ure out,” Mike Waal said.

Janet Chris­tian­son-Lewis, chair­man of Kent Con­ser­va­tion and Preser­va­tion Al­liance, which op­poses a span land­ing in the county, said Shoge’s ideas on pre­vent­ing growth from a bridge also re­strict any po­ten­tial devel­op­ment in the county. She ar­gued against Shoge’s state­ment that mul­ti­fam­ily units are a way to at­tract young fam­i­lies as most fam­i­lies want sin­gle fam­ily homes.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Waal said with the com­ple­tion of the Middletown by­pass, Kent County may see an in­flux of peo­ple look­ing to live in a ru­ral area mak­ing Shoge’s ar­gu­ment for the need of a bridge to help curb pop­u­la­tion loss ob­so­lete.

Shoge said, how­ever, he is look­ing at how the county cap­i­tal­ize off of the ben­e­fits of a Bay cross­ing land­ing here.

“I’m not anti-growth along the 301 cor­ri­dor. I’m not anti- help­ing our busi­nesses grow and pros­per, I’m not anti- any of that. I’m for it all in ad­di­tion to the po­ten­tial and pos­si­bil­ity of a third span,” Shoge said.

Waal said he does not see any­one look­ing into ways to coat-tail on the growth of Middletown.

Shoge said he agrees Kent County needs to be do­ing more, but these fac­tors are all po­ten­tials, how­ever.

“It’s re­ally any­one’s guess to see just how much traf­fic fol­lows along that 301 cor­ri­dor when you have (a road) in Delaware es­sen­tially run­ning par­al­lel to it,” Shoge said. “So it’s a wait and see. But, best case sce­nario, we can start to see some of that growth, that is ex­cel­lent and I am 100 per­cent for it.”

PHOTO BY LEANN SCHENKE

Sam Shoge presents rea­sons he is in fa­vor of a third cross­ing of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay land­ing in Kent County with a pre­sen­ta­tion ti­tled “Reimag­in­ing the Sta­tus Quo: Why Chang­ing De­mo­graph­ics and Na­tional Trends Should Make Kent County Res­i­dents Re­con­sider the Mean­ing of Preser­va­tion.” He pre­sented it to the Bay Bridge Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee dur­ing a meeting Nov. 28.

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