Blueprint for growth is an abominable plan
July 28, 2005
|At the risk of appearing injudicious in my choice of words, I'm going to get this off my chest right away: The draft of the New Market Region Plan is an abomination.
If I had a few pages for this column, I might not have enough space to describe all that's wrong about it.
To be fair, the initial draft written by the county's Planning Department was a decent starting point. But it's been downhill since November 2003, when it was handed to the Frederick County Planning Commission.
This isn't some minor ordinance. Under Maryland law, preparing countywide and region plans is the most important function of any planning commission. That makes it all the more unconscionable that the Planning Commission has produced a 91-page document that is awful.
The plan is a blueprint of growth for the New Market region. It includes land use and zoning, schools, roads, natural resources -- you name it. The unelected commission only has an advisory role, and sends its recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners, which has the authority to adopt, change or amend the plan.
If they don't drastically change the draft, they will be doing a disservice to the people of Frederick County in general, and the residents of the New Market Planning Region in particular.
The plan contradicts the goals of the county Comprehensive Plan, such as concentrating growth in and around existing communities, preserving the county's agricultural character and natural resources, discouraging low-density residential sprawl, and reducing the cost of adequate public services and facilities.
It does not include many of the careful and comprehensive surveys and studies required by state law.
The draft recommends massive new development in spite of the fact that the inventory of available zoned land is already more than twice what is recommended by the countywide plan and before specific rezoning thresholds have been met.
Because the threshold has not been met, the original staff draft recommended against major new rezonings. Instead, the current draft recommends rezoning more than 1,600 acres, based more on what developers want to rezone than what makes sense for the future of the community.
The draft includes an extension of the growth boundary where there is no possible rationale other than to serve the developer making the request, next to one of the few parks in the region to boot.
The draft rejects proposed new resource conservation areas, while the "Green Infrastructure" map in the plan highlights three larger tracts of ecologically valuable land -- contiguous woodland, with steep slopes, streams and wetlands -- that the plan leaves unprotected. In fact, one of the tracts is already being developed in Eaglehead.
In Green Valley, contrary to the staff recommendation, the conversion of 552 acres of green corridors and farms into the most wasteful and out-of-date well-and-septic sprawl is referred to as "infill."
The list could go on, but the column can't.
Of all the flaws, however, none is more egregious than the almost complete absence of resident input.
At a recent public hearing about another matter, Commissioner Michael L. Cady (R), who serves as the liaison to the Planning Commission, described the region plan update process, and emphasized the amount of public participation involved. And indeed, there has been such participation, beginning with hundreds of completed surveys and well-attended open-house discussions a few years ago.
But while input has been offered, it's been almost entirely ignored.
A public process designed for resident involvement and feedback has been public in appearance only.
Now the credibility of the New Market Region Plan and the Board of County Commissioners requires a thorough reconsideration of the original staff draft, and the abundance of earlier public surveys and comments, along with a genuine commitment to incorporate public input in the final plan.
The opportunity to do it right begins at the next public hearing at 7 p.m. Aug. 11 at Oakdale Middle School, 9840 Old National Pike, Ijamsville.
The recommended comprehensive plan map and zoning map will be displayed from 5-7 p.m., and planning department staff will be available to answer questions.
You can download the text of the Planning Commission draft (with maps) at www.co.frederick.md.us. Do a site search for "New Market Region Plan," and the first matching document should be the link to the plan.