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County Council Rejects Sugarloaf Overlay


On Tuesday evening, 12/19, the Frederick County Council defeated six amendments to the Overlay text and then voted against the Overlay itself 5-2. Steve McKay and Jerry Donald voted in favor. You can watch the meeting video and experience firsthand the Council Members’ descriptions of their thinking by clicking here.

  • They explain their positions on adding data centers as prohibited uses in the Overlay beginning at 1:40:17.

  • They explain their votes on the unamended Overlay text beginning at 2:19:08. 


The Montgomery Countryside Alliance captured our sense of the evening’s proceedings well; read their summary here. Read the Frederick News Post’s coverage here and here


The primary reasons that Council members gave for opposing the Overlay might be summarized as:


  • The county’s Data Center Workgroup (co-chaired by Council Member Renee Knapp) is still working on their recommendations for where data centers should go. Sugarloaf Alliance suggests that setting preemptive land use policy is in fact what the Sugarloaf Plan was designed to do following on the gun range controversy. Citizens should not have to be vigilant about other property owners’ land use agendas and then spend extensive time and treasure to fight against uses that aren’t compatible. We know that this area is threatened by data center development. Deciding now that this area is inappropriate for data centers is the right thing to do.


  •  The pro-Overlay advocacy is a rich folks’ NIMBY effort. Sugarloaf Alliance notices that the largest land owners in the Plan area and the developers and real estate people that support development comprise nearly all of the commenters who publicly opposed the Overlay. In support of the Overlay are the many many people who wrote and who testified, and the more than 1300 people who have signed the petition (so far) - these folks are residents (owners or not), visitors, folks who work here, folks who play here, folks with family and community here. The Overlay allows for change, but not dense or industrial development. The need for preservation is environmental. The folks who object are about something else.


  • The Planning Commission and last Council overreached by moving the boundary to 270. Sugarloaf Alliance notes that - without saying so explicitly - it is developer Tom Natelli’s land that the Council is saying should have been excluded from the preservation Plan area (suggesting they prefer the old Rt. 80 and Thurston Road cut-outs). Mr. Natelli wants to build data centers on his land. We know that because our Public Information Act efforts got us the county’s CDI floating zone map and a conceptual site plan for the Thurston Road cut-out showing eight data centers and two substations. Sugarloaf Alliance has made the case many times that preservation of the Sugarloaf area isn’t possible if industrial or dense development is allowed west of I-270 (for example, read here and here). Many other environmental organizations and Mr. McKay spoke to that point as well.


Make of that what you will. We applaud Mr. McKay’s efforts to keep environmental impacts and other facts and policy choices in front of the Members.


What Next? 


  • The land use vision statement - the Sugarloaf Plan itself - was passed last year with the I-270 boundary. One thing the Sugarloaf Plan does do is hold current zoning as is and requires folks who might request zoning changes to demonstrate that their proposed use is consistent with the preservation plan. However, floating zones (like the proposed CDI floating zones Sugarloaf Alliance learned about through our Public Information Access lawsuit) could be dropped on agriculturally zoned acreage without a full rezoning process. That’s the point of a floating zone. We’ll need to be vigilant.


  • We understand that another area plan is beginning to go through the planning process. This would be the so-called I-270 Corridor plan. It's a development plan that Mr. Natelli was asking to be considered in conjunction with the Sugarloaf Plan.  We expect proponents of this Corridor Plan to try to change the Sugarloaf Plan boundary back to the Rt. 80 and Thurston Road cut-outs, and we saw sympathy on the Council for that cause last night.  No rest for the weary…..



All that said, those of us on the Sugarloaf Alliance central committee send our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of you! 


Together we have created a strong, integrity-based, and effective advocacy coalition to learn the facts, to spread the word so our Frederick County neighbors know what’s going on, and to make ourselves heard. You’ve followed the issues, written mountains of emails, signed petitions, called your neighbors, showed up and testified at countless meetings in Winchester Hall. 


You’ve made a valuable investment to preserve your community and this treasured green space. Though this was a disappointing setback, we now know where members of the County Council stand, and that will be very helpful as we move forward.


We can be proud of what we’ve achieved so far toward preserving the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape. 


Best wishes for the holidays! 



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