During an update to Frederick County Council on Tuesday, county planners said they didn’t include nearly 500 acres near the Interstate 270-Md. 80 interchange in a preservation plan proposal because it didn’t align with the proposal’s central focus of preserving land surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain.
Council members Steve McKay (R), Kai Hagen (D) and Jerry Donald (D) — whose district houses Sugarloaf Mountain — asked county planners why the interchange area wasn’t included in the plan.
“We didn’t think it was necessary to include [the area] in this plan, because this plan is focused on Sugarloaf Mountain and resource conservation measures related to that,” Planning and Permitting Director Steve Horn said during Tuesday's council meeting.
The area is west of I-270, the traditional dividing line between the rural areas surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain and development in Urbana. Horn said I-270 would remain the western boundary for growth in Urbana, and he added the Sugarloaf plan would create an additional line to separate the county’s preservation land from its development.
County officials first announced the Sugarloaf plan in February 2020, and planners released an initial proposal in July 2021.
Protecting the Sugarloaf area’s natural resources and ecosystem — including forests, bodies of water and wildlife habitats — is chief among the proposal's goals, and preserving the land’s scenic and rural character is key to maintaining its identity within the county, environmental planner Tim Goodfellow said during a series of open house for the proposal in August.
The proposal outlines a 17,000-acre boundary for the Sugarloaf area. Aside from land near the interchange, the boundary follows I-270 from the county line bordering Montgomery County north to Md. 80, Fingerboard Road and the Hope Hill community. From there it winds south with the Monocacy River until again reaching the county line.
The proposal is part of the Livable Frederick Master Plan, which was adopted in 2019 as the prevailing policy document for development and preservation for the county. The Livable Frederick plan identifies a “corridor for growth and development” along I-270, including the interchange area. The plan also states the county will support “policies that facilitate the development” of the area along I-270 to take advantage of access to employment centers in the region.
Roughly three-quarters of the land near the interchange is property of Natelli Communities, a company largely responsible for development in Urbana.
“In the context of the larger objectives of the [Livable Frederick Master Plan], the best way to preserve large expanses of ground in the County is to concentrate development along the corridors where substantial infrastructure already exists,” Tom Natelli, the company's CEO, said in a letter to the county’s planning commission Monday.
County planners emphasized during and after the meeting the proposal presented to the council was a draft, and they expect the proposal to change before the council is expected to vote on it in 2022.
“We’re at the beginning of a pretty extensive review process,” Livable Frederick Director Kimberly Golden Brandt said during the council meeting.