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In this newsletter:

1. Read the Unredacted Sugarloaf Plan Documents from Frederick County

2. Alert: 6/27 County Council Meeting Agenda

3. You Make a Difference #1: Please Sign the Sugarloaf Petition

4. You Make a Difference #2: The Costs of the Sugarloaf Alliance Mission


1. Read the Unredacted Sugarloaf Plan Documents from Frederick County


As we said in last week’s newsletter, Sugarloaf Alliance won its Maryland Public Information Access (MPIA) lawsuit (6/8/23), and the Frederick Circuit Court ordered the county to release the bulk of the requested documents, which relate to the boundary of the Sugarloaf Plan. We received the documents a week later.


Context: Why Sugarloaf Alliance Filed the Public Information Access Requests

Sugarloaf Alliance filed the lawsuits because we believe that land use planning and legislative processes must be conducted in full view of the public. Concerns about behind-the-scenes maneuvering arose because the county has not been sufficiently responsive with regard to some questions that are critically important to the community. 

To start at the beginning: The Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan is the first of ten small area plans to be developed under the Livable Frederick Master Plan. When the Sugarloaf Plan was first under discussion with the Citizens Advisory Committee, which began its work in early 2020, the boundary map distributed to the committee by the county showed Rt. 80 as the boundary between the Plan’s preserved area (i.e., retaining current Ag or RC zoning) and land where more intensive development would be permitted. That was a big change: County policy for the area in question, going back a half-century, has been that I-270 will be the boundary between developed land to the east and rural/agricultural land to the west. Why was that changed? 

The county stonewalled Advisory Committee members’ questions about the county’s rationale for a Rt. 80 boundary. What kind of development might be intended for the land on the west side of I-270? That land currently is zoned agricultural, and Sugarloaf Alliance has offered many reasons why it’s critically important that I-270 remain the boundary between dense development on the east side of the highway and rural area on the west side. For example, read here and here. Moreover, it’s not a massive intellectual leap to notice that the land in question between Rt. 80 and I-270 mostly is owned by an influential developer (who bought even more during this process).

Then, in March 2021, when the county had said they would publish the draft Sugarloaf Plan, they pulled it back suddenly for reworking, with no explanation. When the Plan document reappeared in July 2021, there was a new area excluded from the Plan - acreage also mostly owned by the same influential developer. That area came to be called the Thurston Road Cut-Out. Again, there was no (and continues to be no) concrete public explanation from the county for the change in the Plan or projected uses of the properties.  


However, among our Sugarloaf Alliance members we have some exceptionally good researchers. On the developer’s Thurston Road property - zoned agricultural - it was noticed that old farm buildings were being demolished, and we learned that a new plat for the acreage was filed with the county. The new plat detail did not correspond with a new agricultural or residential use. Careful reading of county records revealed that closed meetings took place on August 16 with Amazon officials and on August 24 between senior County government officials and the head of the Department of Planning and Permitting.


So began Sugarloaf Alliance’s legal adventures. We filed MPIA requests. We sued over inadequate response to two MPIA requests (see below). 


Just to be clear, Sugarloaf Alliance has been a leader in SUPPORT for the county-developed Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan and Overlay District. It is the county's refusal to respond about the boundary questions - the lack of transparency - that sent us to court. 


And, just to be clear, Sugarloaf Alliance is not categorically opposed to data centers. Our thinking at this point is that data centers can be an appropriate use of industrially zoned acreage. However, we’ve learned a lot about the challenges that data centers could bring from observing Data Center Alley in Ashburn, VA. Sugarloaf Alliance supports county legislation to ensure that data center siting, construction and operation will be state-of-the-art and subject to “best practices” regulations and enforcement. 

The Unredacted County Documents


As a result of the court order, on Thursday, 6/15, the Frederick News Post received from the county the same unredacted documents as Sugarloaf Alliance. On 6/17, FNP published a long article describing some of the contents. Read the first FNP article here. A second article was published 6/21. Read it here.


Background: On 10/19/21, Sugarloaf Alliance filed two Maryland Public Information Access (MPIA) requests, asking for documents meeting the following criteria:


MPIA 1: 


"Copies of any emails, sent or received by Frederick County personnel, residing on any email servers owned, managed, used, or controlled by Frederick County, containing any of the following search phrases:


'enhanced mitigation of negative environmental impacts'

'high-quality design elements'

'sectors of biological sciences and technology services'

'existing biological and information technology hub' or

'critical digital infrastructure’


"Please limit this request to email records from February 1, 2021 to April 30, 2021."


Read the first unredacted documents file here.


Keep in mind that, as you begin to look through the material in this link, there are lots of email exchanges. The county has to send us the entirety of each email - and each email includes the attachments and the whole previous email string - so there’s a lot of repetition. 

That said, even the first few documents are eye-opening. Take a good long look at that Critical Data Infrastructure (CDI) Floating Zone map, sporting the county seal. This map projects 9,500 acres of siting for data centers in southern Frederick County, including Ag parcels on the west side of I-270 (even the west side of Rt. 80) inside the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan boundary. Note: It’s not a County Council-approved map. Some of the development negotiations may or may not be Amazon-related anymore. However, the fact that the county still does not talk about this openly has to raise a lot of questions.

MPIA 2: 


Also on 10/19/21, Sugarloaf Alliance filed a Maryland Public Information Access (MPIA) request, asking for:


Copies of any emails, sent or received by Steven C. Horn, Director, Planning and Permitting

Division, Frederick County, residing on any email servers owned, managed, used, or controlled

by Frederick County, which contain the word “Sugarloaf”.


Read the second unredacted documents file here.


Those are the two MPIAs that were addressed by the District Court. There were more MPIAs filed by Sugarloaf Alliance. Over time, we’ve received redacted documents and document lists. We’ve also filed MPIAs with the state. We are accumulating a Google Docs file of our requests, correspondence about those requests and the results of those requests. It’s all public information and you can access all of it (including the files above) here.


Breaking News…. We learned yesterday that Frederick County has filed a request for Reconsideration of the District Court’s MPIA decision. The request concludes: "The Court should find as a matter of law that Plaintiff [Sugarloaf Alliance] is not entitled to attorney’s fees and costs and should award the County other and further relief as the Court deems proper.” The Frederick News Post published an article on 6/21. Never a dull ride around here…. 


AND…. This morning, Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater announced the creation of a Data Centers Workgroup "to examine existing laws and other issues related to this relatively new and rapidly changing industry. County Executive Fitzwater also signed an executive order directing the Department of Planning & Permitting to pause piecemeal rezoning requests until the work group issues its report. 'One of the most important questions facing our community is where data centers can be located and, by extension, where they will not be allowed,' County Executive Fitzwater said. 'Pausing piecemeal rezonings for several months will ensure that everyone is on a level playing field after the work group issues its report and the County Council considers any changes to our law.'” (Read the County’s full announcement here.)   

AND…. County Executive Fitzwater held a press conference this morning (6/22) to make the above announcements, and she called out the Sugarloaf Alliance MPIA win specifically. Watch the 7.5 minute video here.  Her statement about the the county’s position re the MPIA lawsuit starts at about 5:45 in the video. 



2. Alert: 6/27 County Council Meeting Agenda


According to the County Council agenda for 6/27, the Council will receive an informational update on Quantum Loophole (QL), presented by John Peterson, Chief Administrative Officer, Office of the County Executive.  See our earlier newsletter and our website for some background information. Council Meetings begin at 5:30pm and are held in Winchester Hall, 12 East Church St., Frederick. Find the link to watch Council meetings on FCGTV here. In her announcement this morning (see above), County Executive Fitzwater encouraged interested residents to attend or watch online.


Also on the County Council’s 6/27 agenda is "Discussion Regarding Discontinuing Recorded Phone Calls at Council Meetings (Council Decision).” County Council meetings end with a public comment period. Comments may be offered in person or by phone. Currently, folks desiring to comment also are able to leave a pre-recorded message, which is played during the comment period at the end of the meeting. If you would like to weigh in on the proposal to discontinue recorded phone calls, here’s how to contact Council Members.



3. You Make a Difference #1: Please Sign the Sugarloaf Petition


Click here now to sign the Sugarloaf Alliance petition, asking the Board of Appeals to deny QL's special exception request.  The 6/22 hearing has been postponed for now, but the community still needs to be ready make the point. 


Here’s what the petition says:


In light of the illegal environmental damage that Quantum Loophole already has caused, we the undersigned call on the Frederick County Board of Appeals to deny Quantum Loophole "a Special Exception to allow Activity within a Floodplain.” Before a special exception is approved, Quantum Loophole must first:

·      come into full compliance with all environmental regulations;

·      demonstrate that the requested QLoop alignment is the ‘minimum needed’ and the lowest risk possible; and

·      prove that denial of the request would cause ‘exceptional hardship’.


Please note that will encourage you to make contributions. Be aware that those contributions go to Sugarloaf Alliance welcomes your tax deductible donations through our website,


4. You Make a Difference #2: The Costs of the Sugarloaf Alliance Mission


Sugarloaf Alliance is an all-volunteer, 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our missions - primarily related to southwest Frederick County - are preservation and environmental protection, smarter growth, and transparency in government.  Our activity mostly involves research, networking and communication to our mailing list, our partners, and the general public through our newsletters, website, social media, local press, and comments to county officials in writing and in person. Our mailing list currently numbers nearly 650 people.


Most of those activities don’t cost the organization very much, but our legal pursuits in the interest of government transparency do. If you also believe that the government’s work is the people’s business, and if you have the means to help us in that mission - a little or a lot - please visit the donate page at our website. 


 Thank you!

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