Shoge offers pros of a Bay bridge to Kent
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
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.”
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.