(12/09) I appreciate that the subject of this column may not be the most exciting thing I could write about, but it is timely and very important to anyone interested in and concerned about the way in which we will deal with growth and how we will evolve as a community.
It has been almost two years since the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) launched our Growth Management Initiative to thoroughly review and update the Countywide Comprehensive Plan, including the Zoning Map, and to strengthen the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).
The process has been exhaustive and...well...comprehensive, including countless hours of excellent work by county planning staff, dozens of worksessions by the Planning Commission, open houses and public hearings, and, still in progress, many more worksessions by the BOCC. Next month (January) there will be a public hearing
on the final draft. After that, the BOCC will consider and discuss the public comments and likely make additional adjustments before adopting a final Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map (perhaps in February).
This immense effort is updating the 1998 Countywide Comprehensive Plan, which is a broad policy document that provided guidance for the subsequent updates of the county's eight separate region plans. This is a significant change from the way earlier comprehensive plans have been structured. Since 1984, there has been
"Volume I" of the plan, which is the broader Countywide Comprehensive Plan, and "Volume II," which is comprised of eight different region plans.
North County residents may be aware that the "Thurmont Region Plan" was the last region plan updated and adopted as part of the old approach. One problem with this approach was that the state requires the entire plan be updated every six years, but it proved to be a practical impossibility to responsibly review and update
all eight region plans and the overall plan in that time frame. Another shortcoming was that going through them all, one at a time, in the same order, meant that it took a long time to get back to some parts of the county, where there is more growth pressure and more issues at hand, at reasonable intervals.
Another problem with the previous process was that separate municipal planning processes were usually out of synch with county planning. Beyond the lost opportunity to better coordinate with county planning, it could mean that an updated municipal plan might not even be reflected on the county plan for a few years after it
was updated. Now, when a municipal plan update has progressed to the municipalities elected officials, the county will initiate a timely process to amend the comprehensive plan.
The new plan establishes a "Community Planning" process that will enable targeted plan updates to happen at three levels: the Countywide Plan, smaller and more focused "Community Plans," and even smaller, specific "Corridor Plans." This offers a number of planning benefits, but will also mean that the county will be able to
update the whole plan on a cycle that meets the state requirement.
Similarly, the overall countywide plan can and will be updated through work on specific "Corridor Plans." Focusing on a smaller and particular area of interest - a "corridor" - will enable the county to address highly detailed issues in places where growth and change are more immediate and intense. A "Corridor Plan" update
could include or emphasize design elements, street networks, zoning, redevelopment, transit, etc.
An important new mapping element of the comprehensive plan illustrates three significant components as a way to provide a general version of the traditional land use plan map. This element defines community growth areas (incorporated and unincorporated) relative to the county's agricultural lands and our natural resource
We are one county, but different areas, or regions, have distinct identities, issues and concerns. So the overall plan will still include profiles for each planning region, including background data and an overview of the general plan components for each region. A key element for each specific area is the "Community Growth
Area," which includes Municipal Growth Areas (for each of the twelve incorporated municipalities in the county) and for Unincorporated Growth Areas. The latter are for roughly two dozen unincorporated communities, ranging from Urbana, which is larger than most towns in the county, to small communities or villages such as Sabillasville or Rocky
The "Agricultural and Rural Communities Plan" emphasize the importance of agriculture and our rural communities (including areas not necessarily in agricultural use). Key features of this component include broad agricultural and rural areas, the establishment of five larger "Priority Preservation Areas," and the
identification of small, rural crossroad communities that are part of the surrounding agricultural community, and which may experience some limited growth in the context of supporting the local farming community. A "Priority Preservation Plan" is one of the new requirements from the State of Maryland.
The "Green Infrastructure Plan" focuses on the county's network of natural lands and protected areas. Viewing natural areas, biological functions and environmental features as a connected network will make it easier to preserve the values they offer us and identify gaps where additional efforts may be warranted. It also
makes it much easier to develop a responsible "Water Resources Plan," which is also one of the new requirements from the State of Maryland.
The new Countywide Comprehensive Plan is organized around nine basic "themes." The themes make it possible to focus in a meaningful way on significant aspects of the county that have gotten very little attention in previous plans. With the overall format based on these themes, we will have a more dynamic document where
individual themes can stand alone, and more easily serve as the basis of related changes, in response to new state requirements or to reflect priorities in the county.
The overall "Introduction," of the plan conveys some of the history of the county, a description of its current circumstances, and a look ahead at some of the challenges we'll face in the next 50 years.
The "Planning Framework and Background" chapter presents the new structure and organization of the Comprehensive Plan document. It also looks at the overall framework for planning in the county, with an eye toward our regional context, major trends and a vision for the county.
A chapter about "Conserving Our Natural Resources and Green Infrastructure," attempts to identify and protect key natural resources while recognizing the need to have balance economic values and future development.
The "Protecting and Preserving Our Heritage" chapter contains goals and policies and action items for heritage preservation, historic properties, significant scenic and cultural landscapes and more.
The chapter about "Preserving Our Agricultural and Rural Community" focuses on what it will take to support a vibrant and viable agricultural community.
The chapter entitled "Providing Transportation Choice" addresses all modes of transportation, and looks at long term transportation improvements, including roads and highways, public transportation, and pedestrian and bicycle facilities.
The chapter "Serving Our Citizens" provides an overview of county services and facilities, including current facilities and future needs.
A completely new chapter called "Supporting a Diversified Economy" includes goals, policies and action items to support, retain and foster the growth of existing business, and to attract new businesses that enable county residents to work where they live. This is one of the new parts of the comprehensive plan.
A new chapter, required by the state, "Assessing Our Water Resources" includes sections on drinking water resources, wastewater and managing stormwater and non-point source pollution.
These lead to a very important chapter about "Managing Our Growth," which establishes both the broad planning goals and the targeted land use policies we need to ensure that our neighborhoods and communities grow and develop in ways that improve the quality of life for everyone here. This includes a look at where future
growth will occur, what form it will take, when and how fast or slow it should happen, and how can it be done in a manner that works well and efficiently.
There's more. But not nearly enough space here. If nothing else, I hope I've conveyed a sense of the breadth and depth of the process and the new comprehensive plan, and that it is clear that it is an important document for the county, and our future
As part of the Countywide Comprehensive Plan Update the County is also engaging a Countywide Comprehensive Zoning Process, which includes zoning changes based on the newly adjusted Land Use Plan map. This process does not apply to land within the 12 incorporated municipalities.
For those of you who are interested in more information - or a lot more detail - the county's website offers a "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions), the Draft Plan (with the Plan Document, Land Use Plan Map, the General Plan Map), community participation information and staff contacts, a calendar of workshops, hearings,
application deadlines, etc., materials from the Planning Commission and BOCC workshops, many other related reports and documents, details about the current countywide zoning map update process, and more. To access the main page for this process, go to: http:// www.frederickcountymd.gov/index.aspx?NID=2717
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