Frederick County's Activity Centers in the Spotlight

Apr 2, 2013
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A recent article in the Frederick News Post highlights the County’s Activity Centers and discusses in great detail how concentrating growth and development in these mixed-use places will benefit Frederick’s economy improve the County’s quality of life and preserve its agriculture all while accommodating more residents.

With its population of 233000 expected to grow to nearly 330000 by 2040 (a more than 40% increase) Frederick County is part of the region’s fast-growing outer suburbs. Accommodating this growth sustainably requires very strong coordination between land use and transportation policies.

Focusing growth and development in Activity Centers will help do just that and enable Frederick County to help metropolitan Washington meet its Region Forward targets.

Frederick County ‘activity centers’ help channel growth
Originally published March 17 2013
By Nicole Macon

WASHINGTON — Karen and Norman Cornelius have lived in Brunswick all their lives and remember when its downtown was bustling and the railroad station was a major employer for the town’s residents.

“We had everything here you needed” Karen Cornelius 67 said of she and her husband 71. “It just used to be crowded all the time.”

When CSX took over the railroad line and reorganized train operations Brunswick was no longer an important transit point for the region’s trains and the town was no longer such a busy place.

Now the area is experiencing a renaissance fueled by a new development being built on former dairy farms along Md. 17.

Brunswick represents one of the eight areas in Frederick County that made the list of 139 activity centers approved this year by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments a nonprofit organization aimed at improving sustainability and accessibility in the metro Washington area.

The remaining areas in Frederick that made the list of activity centers are a mix of older developments in need of revitalization such as Golden Mile East Frederick Rising and Francis Scott Key Mall and newer and up-and-coming developments like Urbana and Jefferson Technology Park. Established areas like Fort Detrick and downtown Frederick also received the designation. Maryland cities and towns comprise 55 of the 139 activity centers nearly 40 percent of the centers chosen.

The goal of selecting activity centers is to channel investment in targeted areas with the best chance of success and to discourage urban sprawl. This is especially important in Frederick County as the area’s population is expected to increase by 133 percent between 2010 and 2040 according to COG.

Developments like Brunswick Crossing are expected to add not only residents to some of these communities but to improve the area’s infrastructure as well. To accommodate the additional 1505 homes expected in the next 10 to 15 years Pleasant Developments added a water tower and waste and water treatment plants in addition to a trail that connects the new development to Brunswick’s downtown district according to Christina May marketing and public relations director at Pleasants Developments.

The designation may help reinvigorate parts of Frederick that have been in decline such as the Golden Mile corridor. The area is surrounded by large chain stores spread out along U.S. Route 40. It was once anchored by the now-closed Frederick Towne Mall where only flagship stores Home Depot and Boscov’s are open for business. The Frederick Board of Aldermen voted unanimously for a plan to restore the stretch of U.S. 40 between U.S. 15 and I-270.

Plans are already underway to restore East Frederick historically an industrial district. Former Top Chef contestant Brian Voltaggio with business partner Hilda Staples opened Family Meal a diner-style restaurant in a former car dealership showroom on 880 N. East St. that was purchased by Staples’s husband Jonathan.

The Staples are looking to bring mixed-use developments into the former mechanic bays that were once part of the car dealership.

“We’re trying to extend the entertainment and bring in other activities to other parts of Frederick” Hilda Staples said.

Hilda Staples and Voltaggio have a history of converting older buildings into restaurants. Their first restaurant in downtown Frederick Volt is located in the Houck Mansion that was built in the early 1890s.

Redeveloping areas in Frederick will help accommodate the projected growth while preserving Frederick County’s farmland according to David P. Gray Frederick County representative to COG.

“I think it’s important to continue to nurture farming activities here” Gray said.

Since 1980 more than 18700 acres of farmland have been permanently protected in Frederick County as part of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program according to Frederick County’s website.

Some Frederick County residents feel that the government is not doing enough to protect farmland. Monrovia resident Gail McDermott 59 feels planned-urban-development projects have “brought too many people” to rural areas like Monrovia.

“The PUD (planned urban development) keeps moving closer” McDermott said. “We need the farmland to support the society.”

In Monrovia there are two planned developments that would add a total of about 2600 housing units to the area. The total population of Monrovia in 2010 was 5164 according to the U. S. Census.

Not far from Monrovia is Urbana another activity center identified as an area for growth since the 1970s. A lack of infrastructure prevented the area from being developed until the mid-1990s. Communities like Villages of Urbana sprang up once water and sewer lines were extended. Rodgers Consulting President Mark Friis said that this project has the “strongest demand in the area in the past 15 years.” Rodgers Consulting worked with Monocacy Land Co. in planning and designing the site.

Russell Dillard 52 moved to Urbana four years ago and enjoys living in the community so much that he doesn’t mind driving about 560 miles a week to his job at National Harbor in Fort Washington Md.

The area is “perfect for me” Dillard said. He enjoys the quietness and mountain scenery along with easy access to Interstate 270.

This main thoroughfare for Fredrick County residents to travel to and from D.C. and beyond is expected to become heavily congested without additional mass transit options. Nearly 90 percent of residents commute to work by car and only 2.4 percent of residents commute to their jobs via mass transit according to the U.S. Census 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-Year estimates.

“We’ve got to figure out ways to move more people in a more efficient manner” said Rick Brace member-at-large for Frederick County with the America Planning Association’s Maryland Chapter.

One of the mass transit options proposed is a bus-only shoulder lane along Interstate 270. Frederick Alderman Carol Krimm has pitched a pilot program for buses to use a shoulder lane when traffic is at its worst along Interstate 270 between Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Growth in these selected areas also depends on economic factors. The federal government is a leading employer in Frederick County with 6045 federal employees at Fort Detrick according to Lanessa Hill public affairs and community relations specialist at Fort Detrick. Technology industries are also leading employers in the county– the northernmost part of the I-270 Technology Corridor is located in Frederick County.

With a projected decrease of $2 billion in the Maryland Department of Transportation’s capital fund over the next six years according to a Maryland Department of Legislative Services presentation to the Transporting Funding Summit transportation projects in Maryland may be put on hold if the state cannot raise the necessary funds.

Brace who is also an independent urban planning consultant is cautiously optimistic that the economy will keep pace with Frederick County’s projected long-term demand.

“A lot of this is going to depend on what happens with the Congress” Brace said “and how they address the fiscal cliff.”

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