Act now to have a say on county growth plan

Kai Hagen

December 23, 2004

There's a method to our madness.

While it may seem that growth is occurring at a breakneck pace in Frederick County, and the patterns of development may appear haphazard, the fact is that everything is happening according to plan.

Though county-sponsored surveys, discussion groups and public hearings reveal widespread concern about growth, the loss of farmland and open space, congested roads, overcrowded schools and higher taxes, these problems are not the result of a laissez-faire or libertarian approach to planning.

On the contrary, what we are doing and, no less important, what we aren't doing is all part of a complicated and comprehensive plan.

All the detailed recipes for the future of our communities are found in a cookbook that contains the county's comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, subdivision regulations, other development ordinances and more. Of particular note are the chapters dedicated to the eight planning regions, which provide detailed land-use plans.

They aren't shown on most maps, and you won't see signs when you cross regions, but Frederick County is divided into eight planning regions. Each region has a plan and process for reviewing options and updating the details that will determine the course of development for 10 or 20 years.

For more than a year, the county has been updating the New Market Region Plan. The New Market region encompasses the towns of Mount Airy and New Market, which control their own growth, as well as the unincorporated communities of Bartonsville, Ijamsville, Lake Linganore, Monrovia, New London, and Spring Ridge.

Unfortunately, this is a public process that's been happening without a great deal of public input. Only a handful of the 30,000 people who live in the region have participated in any of the initial discussions, open houses, work sessions and public hearings that provide a genuine opportunity for county residents to influence, even control, the destiny of their communities and the landscapes around them.

Fortunately, it's not too late.

Much of the hard work is done by county staff, with oversight and approval from the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners. But the process was not meant to be left to the professionals, or the politicians. And it was especially not meant to be left to special interests that would reap the short-term profits from shortsighted and outdated forms of suburban sprawl.

It was meant to address the concerns and reflect the desires of the people who live, and vote, in the region, and throughout the county.

When the county began updating the New Market Region Plan, it mailed a letter to everyone in the region. In the plain and neutral language of bureaucrats, people were informed that the "Division of Planning has prepared a preliminary version of the New Market Region Plan to initiate the public hearing process," and that "the Plan is a long-range guide for growth, land use and development decisions."

The results reveal the letter did not inspire people to learn more, write a letter, or attend a hearing. And experience suggests that isn't because they are satisfied with the choices being made on their behalf.

I can't help but wonder if the results might have been different if the letter included some information beyond the basic process, dates and deadlines.

Would more people have participated, so far, if they knew the draft plan more than doubles the number of residents in the region in the next 20 years or so? Would more folks show up if they knew how much of the new development was going to be in the form of low-density sprawl, including swaths of agricultural landscapes outside of priority funding areas and beyond the reach of county water and sewage? Would more of us express ourselves if a thorough fiscal impact analysis (which is not part of the process) revealed that much of the planned development would require direct subsidies from the current tax base?

All the information is public. It's yours. You can get a copy of the draft region plan. You can get a listing of the dozens of rezoning requests, and the Planning Commission recommendations. And you can find a lot of it online.

You can attend the open house from 5-8 p.m. Feb. 10 (probably at Oakdale Middle School, 9840 Old National Pike) where maps will be displayed, and you can ask questions.

And you can certainly come to the public hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 (also possibly at Oakdale Middle School).

It's not too late to make a difference.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at