(11/3) It won't happen next year. It probably won't even happen in 10 years, but at some point in the next 50 years, Graceham will be swallowed by Thurmont.
In the process of developing the town's master plan, the Thurmont Planning and Zoning Commission needs to show the boundary of where the commission expects the town to grow.
The existing municipal growth boundary includes about 267 acres that are outside of Thurmont but within the growth boundary. While that is more than enough land to address the town's expected
growth over the next 20 years, it leaves little room for delays due to owners not wanting to have their land annexed when it is needed to continue the town's growth.
Planner Denis Superczynski told the commission, "What you have to do as a board is not choke off the type of housing you have."
To give the town some flexibility, the planning and zoning commission agreed to expand the municipal growth boundary during a master plan workshop on Oct. 19 by adding about 400 acres from which
the town can choose as it grows.
While Planning and Zoning Chairman John Ford supported expanding the growth boundary, he made it clear he wanted a note on the plan saying that the commission doesn't expect all of that additional
land to be used up within the next 20 years. He considers it more of a 50-year growth boundary.
The additional land is to the east and south of Thurmont and covers Graceham on the west and south sides.
"I feel a little uncomfortable going out and encompassing Graceham," Ford said when he saw the direction the town was expanding.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Randy Cubbedge said the boundary expansion made sense. "When you drive down the road, there's no real separation (between Thurmont and Graceham) anymore," he said.
Superczynski pointed out that the Graceham septic systems are expected to fail and when they do, the property owners will want to connect to Thurmont's system.
The commission also discussed the idea of the industrial bypass and where it should be. Since the development of the parkway will be sometime in the future, the commissioners drew a rough line
from the industrial park north of town to Route 15.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Sabrina Massett worried that the parkway would create industrialization around the Roddy Covered Bridge.
"I feel like we're creating a problem to solve a problem," Massett said.
Other commissioners suggested there were ways to protect the land around the bridge other than not building the parkway to take truck traffic out of Thurmont.
This led into a discussion about what could be done with property north of Thurmont to protect the scenic views.
"You couldn't develop that valley without causing a major viewshed problem," Ford said.
That's when it was suggested that the property could be downzoned to preserve the view.
"Downzoning is probably never going to happen, but I don't want to see it upzoned," Ford said.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner John Kinnaird said, "If you want to protect that property, buy it and protect it."
The discussion about property north of Thurmont continued on Oct. 26 at the regular Planning and Zoning Commission workshop.
Superczynski pointed out that the some of the land has commercial development zoning and could have commercial operations built even if they weren't annexed. This, however, is unlikely.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Ray Williams pointed out that if this happened, the town wouldn't be receiving the revenue but would still receive the traffic problems.
Kinnaird said, "I would feel safer saying we want to use that property sometime in the future instead of leaving it up to the county and seeing what happens."
Massett said, "I think we make a stronger statement by not annexing it than by annexing it."
During this meeting, Ford also told the commissioners that there would be infrastructure improvements needed even for the areas that the commissioners agreed upon.
"There's no good place to add property to town, either within or out of the growth boundary, without significant concerns, mainly sewer," Ford said.
The areas need a combination of pumping stations, sewer lines and water storage.
Kinnaird said, "This is just going to be an additional cost they are going to have to anticipate in their costs."
Thurmont has less than 10 years of in-town growth left
Thurmont has 344 potential home sites left within the town's boundary, which is less than 10 years of inventory even if all of the sites could be developed.
The Thurmont Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed information from Planner Denis Superczynski about town buildout estimates on Oct. 19.
"I took the gross acreage within town and applied a very generalized build out," Superczynski said.
He looked at available parcels (136.5 acres) within the town and applied a factor to the acreage to take into account environmental issues, forest, topography, lot shape and needed infrastructure.
The result is that the town has 344 potential lots for homes that could be used up in 9.8 years.
There is also another 267.5 acres outside the town boundary but within the town's growth boundary. This adds another potential 561 units and 16 years of development time. The Lawyer Farm east of
town, which is being considered for annexation, is within this category.
Superczynski said the 25.9 years to build out the properties is "well within the likely period for this comprehensive plan to be in effect."
This assumes the town will have a growth rate of 35 dwelling units a year (25 subdivision lots and 10 infill lots).
Once the town is built out, Superczynski estimates Thurmont's population would be about 8,616 in 2031. Based on the town's current population, this would represent about 0.5 percent annual growth.
"Mathematically, what it shows is you have a fair amount of land in town that can be developed with a little bit of annexation," Superczynski said.
The problem is that the land is unlikely to develop smoothly.