This past week, we held a community meeting to inform neighbors about concerns with Frederick County’s recently issued Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan.
As stated in the county’s briefing book, “The purpose of the Plan is to steward the Sugarloaf Area’s unique and iconic assets, maintain its rural character and scenic attributes, protect environmental resources, and enhance the quality of the landscape.”
The concern of the community has been the change in the protected area from the February 2020 briefing book to the one shown in the July 2021 plan. In the plan that was released, 490 acres had been eliminated, of which 380 acres are owned by Thomas Natelli’s (developer of Urbana) company. If this change remains in the plan, it will result in environmental damage, an increase in traffic that would necessitate the widening of Thurston Road and destruction of the tranquility and beauty of the Sugarloaf area. Additional zoning changes would likely follow.
To our surprise, County Executive Jan Gardner attended and asked if she could speak to the group. After our presentation and questions and comments by those in attendance, we asked the group to decide if they wanted to hear from the County Executive, and two options were discussed. The first, letting her speak without group participation and the second option, which was overwhelmingly chosen, was to ask her to respond to individual questions.
The audience was not reassured by her comments. One example centered around zoning. At the meeting, she insisted that the plan did not include zoning changes. This is an accurate statement; however, zoning changes are not usually in this type of plan. It does set the stage for those owning this property to request a zoning change through the county process and to use the fact that the property was not included in the plan as substantiation that the county always intended for this property to be changed from agricultural to industrial or commercial. If this property is included in the protected area, it will make it far more difficult to obtain a zoning change.
A major concern of the community has been a lack of transparency throughout the process. This position was substantiated on Sept. 15 when the county’s Planning Commission members spoke about the removal of the 490 acres from the plan. To mitigate this issue, they are including the acreage in their deliberations but made it clear that this was not a final decision, and the cut-out could still be included in final approval.
The only recent county meetings on the plan have been virtual, and thus, there was limited participation by the community. Jan Gardner had no problem attending and requesting time to address our in-person meeting. If she believes in an open and transparent process, we challenge her to hold her own in-person community meeting and to announce the meeting by sending postcards to the 800 homes in the planning area. She would then have her own opportunity to present her position to the public and hopefully leave time to answer our questions.
Doug and Peggy Kaplan write from the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. Doug was past president and Peggy was past secretary of Sugarloaf Conservancy. Doug was a former member of the Sugarloaf Area Stakeholders Advisory Group, and both have been community activists for the past 13 years. They can be reached at Peg.Kaplan@comcast.net.