Zoning Ordinance Rewrite An On-Going Process

Kai Hagen

May 17, 2002

Recent news articles have reported that Frederick County is now home to more than 200,000 people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county is one of the 100 fastest-growing in the nation, adding new residents at four times the national average.

For better or worse, the flow of new residents is going to continue. And, at the rate of growth experienced during the last 15 months, the county's population would double to 400,000 in less than 30 years.

Is that something to celebrate as good news, to treat with indifference, or to lament for its effect on our landscape and communities? In any case, one way or another, Frederick County is going to be different.

Those who already live here, however, have the opportunity and ability to substantially affect how it will be different. It would be a mistake to assume it is simply something beyond the influence and control of county residents. We can do a great deal to shape the future here, for our ourselves, our children and their children, and the communities we call home - the old and established ones, the new ones and those yet to be built.

It is no small irony that talk of things such as zoning and adequate public facilities ordinances and the like make many people's eyes glaze over, while there is no shortage of conversations and complaints decrying chronic traffic problems, growing water shortages, crowded schools, increasing crime, ugly commercial strips, too few athletic fields, disappearing open space, new taxes and more...

And, more often than not, when there is a surge of interest and involvement, it is likely a personal and local reaction to something specific, something negative...something that is already happening or may be too late to alter or prevent.

A quarter-century ago, in a Frederick County much different than today, a county facing different concerns and problems and possibilities, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) enacted the first iteration of the current zoning ordinance. Since then, the ordinance has been amended well more than 100 times. For all the problems, there is little doubt that life in the county is better than it would have been without the efforts of many people over the past few decades - previous county zoning and a variety of other ordinances included, not to mention Maryland's smart growth programs.

But, while reacting to problems after the fact may be a normal and necessary function of government, such a piecemeal approach is clearly not the best way to build a well-balanced, healthy and vibrant community.

The current Board of County Commissioners realized that and some time ago began the process of re-writing the ordinance.

It has not been an easy or smooth process.

Nevertheless, the process continues, in spite of delays and complications and controversies. At this time, the process is in the hands of a 15-member Citizens Zoning Review Committee (CZRC). The committee is comprised of 10 representatives from a cross-section of organizations in the county, and five at-large members. It is charged with providing information to the BOCC upon which to base future decisions regarding the revision and updating of the Frederick County Zoning Ordinance.

A significant part of the committee's responsibility is to gather and consider input from the citizens of the county. Speaking as a member of the committee, it is my conviction that is not a hollow goal - not for the Citizen's Zoning Review Committee or the BOCC.

The first thing the new committee did, in fact, was to hold four public hearings around the county, each set up to hear the concerns and views of county residents. The meetings were worthwhile, but attendance was disappointing. There still are a variety of ways and plenty of time, however, for people to express their concerns and ideas and hopes. Written letters and e-mails, for example, will be distributed to all committee members, and will inform and affect the committee's deliberations and "recommendations as to amendments, revisions or the re-writing of specific sections of the ordinance."

A CZRC web site ( has been set up to facilitate public awareness and participation. Among other things, it includes a listing of many of the individual issues and components of county zoning. Those who review the list may be surprised by its scope. They may also be motivated to write a letter or send an e-mail with thoughts about one or more of the elements.

Have your eyes glazed over, yet?

The abstract numbers of growth are made concrete in many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Encouraging more people to learn a little and do a little is not based on the assumption that everyone will share or advocate a particular vision, or version, of the future. But it does assume a better outcome than abandoning the issues and the process to those narrow interests that oppose nearly any limits to growth, and those that oppose any growth.

All that guarantees is bad growth.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at