During a series of virtual open houses for a proposal to enhance preservation of Sugarloaf Mountain and its surrounding area, county residents voiced disapproval that an area near Thurston Road and Interstate 270 was no longer part of the plan.
Residents who spoke during the open houses last week said they oppose Urbana’s rapid development creeping across I-270 and into the area spanning 490 acres of land.
“There are some wonderful rural natural features that will suffer negatively from this specific removal,” a county resident said during the second open house Thursday.
The plan, known formally as The Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan, is a piece of the larger Livable Frederick Master Plan — adopted in 2019 as the prevailing policy document for development and preservation for the county. County officials first announced the Sugarloaf plan in February 2020, and planners released an initial proposal at the end of July 2021.
Protecting the area’s natural resources and ecosystem — including forests, bodies of water and wildlife habitats — is chief among the proposal's goals, and preserving the Sugarloaf area’s scenic and rural character is key to maintaining its identity within the county, project lead Tim Goodfellow said during the open houses.
The proposal defines a 17,000-acre boundary for the Sugarloaf area, which runs to the south along the Montgomery County line and winds with the Monocacy River before reaching Md. 80, Fingerboard Road and the Hope Hill community to the north. The eastern boundary loosely follows Md. 80 to I-270 and then back to the county line.
It also includes initiatives to address quality of life concerns in the area, including building a network of water storage tanks for the county to use in case of forest fires, which would prepare the area in case of infernos that may become more likely with rising global temperatures. Another initiative would explore whether police should enhance enforcement of speed limits on Thurston and Park Mills roads.
In addition to offering chances for public input, last week's open houses included an overview from county planners of the initial proposal for the Sugarloaf Plan that was released in July.
The 490 acres omitted from the county’s proposal is somewhat of an entrance into the Sugarloaf area, Goodfellow said. Those who felt the area should’ve been included appeared to view it as inseparable from the larger Sugarloaf area.
“It’s very disturbing that there seems to be this area that’s carved out,” one constituent said during Tuesday's open house.
In all, 29 people commented during the open houses, Goodfellow said. The vast majority of those who gave input were against excluding the area from the proposal, Goodfellow said.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D), whose district houses the Sugarloaf area, said he’s heard similar concerns from constituents who fear that leaving the area out of the broader Sugarloaf plan leaves it open for development.
County planners opted not to include the area out of concern it didn’t align with other elements of the proposal, Goodfellow said, adding that planners would need to further evaluate zoning districts and land uses in the area for it to receive consideration. The county may address the area in a different plan, he said.
Come September, the Planning Commission will review the proposal and, eventually, forward recommendations to the County Council. County planners will brief the council on Sept. 7, and formal recommendations will come later in the month.
The council, Goodfellow said, is the final authority on the plan and can make any changes to the commission's final recommendations it deems necessary.