If you haven’t watched the videos about the proposed Poplar Farm development published in the Spy on April 8th, you are missing important news that directly affects you. A developer plans to build 456 homes (210 apartments, 108 single family homes, and 138 townhouses) on what used to be Poplar Hill Farm. In short, once was a small farm in Talbot County will become a densely populated mini town, which will likely result in degrading our quality of life on the Eastern Shore.
The “listening session” included the developer explaining the proposal and members of the community commenting on it. All comments were negative—and with good reason.
I will not review the comments. They are worth listening to, and considering, for their own merits. The same can be said about the developer’s proposal. I listened to both and left feeling sorry for community members who rose in opposition to the proposal. The development seems likely to be approved. I left with a question for the authorities with power to approve the proposal: Why aren’t you concerned about the additional environmental, infrastructure, and social services stress that 456 new homes, and possibly a thousand new residents, will place on the county? Don’t you care? And forgive me for asking, what reasons do you have other than hoped-for profits to support a huge project like Popular Farm? What don’t I know?
Many of us moved to the Eastern Shore because of its rural character. Many of us were born here and have chosen to remain here because Talbot County is not Anne Arundel, Prince Georges, or Montgomery Counties. If we wanted to live in a rapidly growing suburb, we would move there. We do not.
But there is more to quality of life than just having the privilege of driving by corn fields and being able to drive into Easton and walk around and explore at any time of day. There are also issues involving the county’s ability to serve the sharp increase in population.
More people translates directly into the need for bigger schools, additional healthcare resources, more police, enhanced and expanded sewer and water treatment, and greater recreational services. Does anyone believe our schools, police, healthcare resources, roads, and other infrastructure are perfect today? One thousand new residents will undermine improvement efforts.
The problem with new developments is that the developer—the organization inviting new residents to join our community—is not asked to pay for much, if anything, of the costs involved in the expanded services. And by the time the county acknowledges that its schools are overcrowded, the developer has moved on to its next big project. And, if you think about it, rapidly expanded infrastructure and social service needs are often not successfully implemented.
The Poplar Farm development increases traffic on the 322 bypass. (It may be time to stop referring to it as a bypass as the number of local destinations grows.) Route 322 will get a new traffic light. Oxford Road will not, we are told, despite the new mini town having its second exit on that road. How many cars per day will go in and out of that exit?
It may be premature to envision the need for a complicated new traffic pattern to handle the traffic in and out of the new development, but a cloverleaf or four-lane overpass may be needed in a few years. I am kidding, of course, because that would be a huge new expenditure for the county. The developer will not be paying for it and none of us want that type of thing on the Eastern Shore.
In addition to traffic, we could talk about whether the new development helps or hurts the health of Chesapeake Bay. What is your guess?
And will the new development make Talbot County schools more successful? Ask any teacher whether increasing class size makes his or her job easier.
And what about healthcare? Will the new hospital be obsolete before it is built? Will the quality of healthcare in our area deteriorate? The answer is that we do not know. What we do know is that the cost of matching healthcare resources to the population is not a problem on the Poplar Farm developer’s radar screen. The developer will be long-gone by the time we acknowledge we have a problem.
One reaction to concerns about Poplar Farm is to suggest that all of us who moved here from somewhere else are part of the problem. The argument suggests that if future residents brought in by the new development are a problem, so too are those of us, like this writer, who moved here in, say, the last 20 years. There is limited logic in that argument but let me suggest that two wrongs do not make a right. The question we need to ask is what the future of Talbot County and the Eastern Shore should look like.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.