The Eastalco aluminum plant site between Buckeystown and Adamstown has been sitting idle for almost 10 years, and for about that long it has been the subject of the daydreams of developers and county planners.
The factory, which smelted aluminum for almost 40 years, was largely closed in 2005 and then torn down after 2010. Alcoa, the owner, put the land up for sale. A spokesman said last week the company has spent $40 million cleaning up the site and removing toxic waste.
Just a fairly short distance from the commercial and industrial development along Md. 85, it is tempting to think about what the site might become. So it has become part of the Livable Frederick Master Plan now moving toward adoption by the Frederick County Council, and it has once again the subject of some controversy.
The draft of the master plan identifies the site as the possible location for a “new town” mixed-use development. But councilmen Steve McKay (R) and Kai Hagen (D) say they are concerned about the label.
Others on the council, including President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Jerry Donald (D), want to keep the language as is.
Both sides say they are concerned about protecting the prime agricultural land that surrounds the site. Only about 300 acres were used for the plant, but Alcoa owns an additional 2,000 acres surrounding the plant.
Council members differ about the better way to accomplish that goal. And both sides can make compelling arguments.
McKay tried and failed to persuade the council to replace the new town designation with language designed to promote commercial and industrial development, while preserving the farmland.
McKay said that he and Hagen know the area is going to see some residential development in the future. But he fears that creation of a new town might require the extension of Md. 80 to the site and the loss of even more farmland.
The master plan also suggests a possible extension of a spur of the MARC rail line to the Eastalco site, but Hagen said he does not see that as a viable option to increase transit access to the site. With Livable Frederick advocating more transit-oriented development, a new town at the rural Eastalco site looks like an anomaly.
But Donald made the point that if this language is not kept in the plan, Alcoa might sell off a lot of the farmland in pieces, and that could eventually lead to more sprawl. Reducing sprawl, after all, is a major goal of Livable Frederick.
Several residents of the area attended a public hearing on the plan to oppose the new town designation. Most said if it is included in the master plan, it will be difficult to change course in the future, even if officials were to decide a new town would not be appropriate.
Most of the opponents would like to have the entire site returned to agricultural use, but that is unlikely to happen. That battle was lost in 1970, when the aluminum plant was approved.
But it seems to us that designating Eastalco as a new town site in the Livable Frederick Master Plan goes too far. It can be identified as a future growth area but planners and county officials in the future should decide how it should be developed.
As Councilman Hagen told our reporter:
“It’s just not an option that we should be carving in stone right now as the preferred option of the county.”