To:                  Frederick County Planning Commission

Cc:                   Frederick County Council

                      Frederick County Executive

                      Frederick County Sustainability Commission

 

From:               Blanca Poteat, County Resident

                      Member, Sugarloaf Plan Advisory Group

 

Subject:            Draft Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan

                      Change of Plans - Climate and Covid

 

Thank you for your consideration of these and other comments regarding the Draft Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan.  Due to the complex issues involved, and my personal concerns for the future and legacy of the Sugarloaf area, it is difficult to be brief.

 

Frederick County’s present and future residents depend for their quality of life on land use decisions that recognize and adjust to the “new normal” of ongoing covid- and climate-driven conditions.

 

Frederick County is part of a world that is grappling with rapid reassessment and reinvention in the face of climate change and covid.  Livable Frederick and the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan must reflect these shifting circumstances and continue to protect the Sugarloaf region and the open space on the west side of I270 near Urbana and the south County area.

 

These two overarching factors, climate change and pandemic change, are essential overlays on Frederick County land use planning, including the Livable Frederick Master Plan and the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan.

 

These changes are compelling reasons to:

  • Postpone and reevaluate any proposed cut-outs from the Sugarloaf Plan of properties on the west side of the Urbana I270/Route 80 interchange in anticipation of Community Growth Areas and Corridor Plan changes.

  • Extend the Sugarloaf Plan area on the west side of I270 northward to the Monocacy River.

  • Reevaluate land use and planning assumptions based on pre-pandemic and pre-climate change scenarios.

 

Open space is not merely undeveloped space.  In the context of climate and covid changes, open space should be considered the “highest and best use” of the entire Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape area. 

 

The sustainability of the County as a “livable” environment depends on protecting its essential water resources and farmlands for local as well as international food production and its woodlands and forests for carbon reduction.  Except for the suggested “cut-out” of properties on the west side of I270 in the Urbana area, most of the Sugarloaf Plan recommends this level of protection.  The “cut-out” should be reintegrated in the Plan.

 

Allowing further development on the west side of I270 would establish a “change in the character of the neighborhood” leading to justification for further west side development and permanent destruction of existing agricultural and natural areas and water and forest resources.

 

Considering developer and/or corporate industrial projects (as rumored) on the west side of I270 near Urbana is allowing the “tail to wag the dog,” whereby developers and corporations determine the long-term reshaping of the “treasured landscape” with short-term economic development “opportunities.”   These projects offer short term developer profit but require short- and long-term County support.  They serve to further erode the County’s and community’s planning prerogatives and commitment to protect open space areas.

 

Sustainability involves focusing public funding on concentrating development, whether employment, industrial, commercial, residential or other, in areas with adequate public facilities, utilities, and transportation.  In the context of climate change and covid, it is fiscally irresponsible and short-sighted to extend development to un-serviced open space areas.  In the climate/covid context, the County needs to maximize the development and redevelopment of the County’s urban core, Frederick City and the South Frederick area. 

 

To repeat, two compelling factors are changing Frederick County’s land use planning assumptions and scenarios:

 

Factor 1 – Climate

This County’s environment depends for its protection and future sustainability on its residents’ and its officials’ decisions and adaptations.  The mission statement of the County’s Sustainability Commission emphasizes “the natural environment’s critical relevance in making community decisions that will sustain for all time a healthy, abundant, affordable, and inspiring place to live and work.”

 

The Livable Frederick Master Plan presents a thorough analysis, suggested approach, and future “aspirational” vision that includes and emphasizes the County’s natural environment, the Green Infrastructure Sector and the Agricultural Infrastructure Sector. 

 

However, economic growth, community development, and open space protection are not inevitable or always successful nor are they always shaped by a land use plan’s carefully crafted and sequential logic.  Overlooked and unexpected things happen.

 

Our changing climate, one aspect of the “natural environment” and long overlooked but no longer

ignore-able, is destabilizing long-held planning and land use presumptions about the future.  Land use planning and “community decisions” must now recognize the emerging and unpredictable effects of climate change and must include flexibility to adapt to these effects.

 

While other Maryland areas may have experienced more floods, storms and other weather incidents, Frederick County has, too, and is not a guaranteed “goldilocks zone.”  Rapidly emerging and more severe weather patterns are already affecting farming and local food production, work and school, supply chains and services, here and everywhere.  In addition, growth pressures and public service costs are intensifying as people and businesses migrate to areas perceived to be less affected by weather disruptions, including many areas of Frederick County.  In this context, protection of local water, trees and agricultural spaces is more essential than ever.

 

(See “5 takeaways from the major new U.N. climate report,” below)  

(NASA definition of “goldilocks zone:” The habitable zone is the area around a star where it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface of surrounding planets.)

Factor 2 - Covid

The ongoing covid19 pandemic has dramatically changed our long-held habits and expectations, locally and globally, regarding employment, education, internet connectivity, supply-chain distribution, business services, health care and other public services.  And land use planning.

 

Many County jobs require on-site workers and are not adaptable to remote employment, but are also disrupted by climate or pandemic factors, including labs, health care, skilled construction and building trades, farming, manufacturing, trucking, food services, public transit, and other public services and safety.

 

However, during the pandemic many other workers, with jobs within and beyond the County, have adapted to remote work, part- or full-time, if reliable internet connectivity is available to them.  These technology workers have included teachers, school and college staff, doctors, counselors, data analysts and software engineers, statisticians, IT and security professionals, financial managers, therapists, journalists, marketers, and attorneys. 

 

Many remote workers have discovered that they prefer working at home and value reclaiming time previously spent commuting.  Many employers have adjusted to remote staffing, as well, and realized improved productivity and reduced office space needs and costs.  The amount of vacant office, retail and commercial, flex and industrial space available in the County testifies to these and other continuing employment changes.  Reduction in traffic, commuter and otherwise, on I270, I70 and other local roads, especially during the height of the pandemic, offers further evidence of this technology-supported shift.

 

Child care, virtual education, online shopping and delivery activity, take-out food and most other aspects of daily life have adjusted to the pandemic-driven “new normal.”  In fact, growing numbers of workers nationwide are quitting their jobs to search for more fulfilling, closer to home, better-paying ones, to create better work-life balance.  Many employers hit especially hard by the pandemic, like trucking, retail and food service, are increasing their pay scales and benefits to attract potential employees.  And in response to the combined effects of climate change and covid, it’s possible to plan for less highway traffic, with more worker transport and goods distribution by existing and expanded rail lines.

(See link to McKinsey report on the Future of Work After Covid, below.)

 

Planning assumptions that focus potential new development in the southern area of the County on the west side of I270, based on the expectation and perception of the I270 corridor as a growing commuting and employment engine, are inconsistent with the Sugarloaf Plan’s, Livable Frederick’s and the Sustainability Commission’s stated commitments to protect the Sugarloaf environment and to recognize the importance of the natural environment in land use decisions.

These planning assumptions exaggerate the I270 corridor’s influence on Frederick County growth and are inconsistent with the new Montgomery County master plan update, Thrive 2050, and the I270 plan, Corridor Forward, currently under consideration by the Montgomery County Council and Montgomery County Executive.  (See links, below.)

 

As further illustration of these changing circumstances, DealBook, a feature of the New York Times, has scheduled an online summit on November 9-10, 2021, “to take stock of a world in the midst of rapid reinvention, grappling with the ripples of Covid and rewriting the rules in real time.”

 

To repeat, Frederick County is part of this world that is grappling with rapid reassessment and reinvention in the face of climate change and covid.  Livable Frederick and the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan must reflect these shifting circumstances, concentrate development in the Frederick City and South Frederick core, and continue to protect the Sugarloaf region and the open space on the west side of I270 near Urbana and the south County area.

Further comments:

 

Sugarloaf Plan Priorities and Livable Frederick Master Plan - Inconsistencies

 

Livable Frederick Plan: p. 34  Multi-Modal Places and Corridors Scenarios

“Our county has existing infrastructure connections to the greater Baltimore-Washington Region, through rail service, transit operations, and major highways.  In this scenario, these existing assets are leveraged to create multi-modal corridors that help catalyze the redevelopment of aging retail and office areas, while creating new mixed-use places in the southern part of the county…..”

Comment: Cutting specific properties out of the Sugarloaf Plan in anticipation of “leveraging” existing and future transportation infrastructure and “creating new mixed-use places in the southern part of the county” is based on outdated planning assumptions that County employment growth will be fed primarily by the I270 transportation corridor from the south.

 

Livable Frederick Plan, p. 48 The Green Infrastructure Sector

“As the amount of developed land has increased, natural areas have not only decreased in quality and quantity but have undergone significant fragmentation.  Locally, this can negatively impact the vitality of the ecosystem and the health and happiness of county residents….The Green Infrastructure Sector is therefore identified to support the conservation of natural resources and environmentally sensitive areas in the county, to direct urban/suburban growth away from green infrastructure and sensitive areas, and to ensure the protection and integration of green infrastructure where it exists within areas targeted for growth.”

Comment: Direct urban and suburban growth away from the west side of I270 and Sugarloaf and control further “significant fragmentation” of the natural areas.

Livable Frederick Plan, p. 60 The Agricultural Infrastructure Sector

“The Agricultural Infrastructure Sector is identified to support continued and innovative agricultural development, such as regenerative farming practices, and direct urban/suburban growth away from agricultural resources….

Frederick County has one of the strongest agricultural economies in Maryland.  This economic strength derives from several key components, each of which remains healthy only because Frederick County citizens demonstrate a strong commitment to maintaining the practice and culture of farming.

The collection of resources, activities, systems, and knowledge necessary to nurture a healthy agricultural economy is called our Agricultural Infrastructure.  This Agricultural Infrastructure must be diligently maintained, improved or expanded when necessary to respond to changing market demands or evolving technologies, and physically deployed in such a way as to serve the needs of farmers throughout the active agricultural areas in Frederick County.” 

Comment: The proposed cut-out of 300-plus acres from the Sugarloaf Plan on the west side of I270 contradicts the commitment that the “Agricultural Infrastructure must be diligently maintained.”

 

Further Comments on Land Use Planning Assumptions

Part of the purpose of land use and community planning efforts are their focus on guiding, improving and sustaining the present and future landscape for the common good.  In the past, these efforts have been shaped and driven by many factors including 1) the separation of residential areas from employment, commercial, service, agricultural, and industrial areas and 2) by the resulting need to move people and goods primarily by cars and trucks between these areas and the need to devote land and public funds for extensive roadway infrastructure.

However, planners began to observe that adding more roadway lanes did not ease traffic congestion.  And the “information superhighway” developed and has deeply influenced people’s communication, commerce, mobility and other activities and habits, in fact, every aspect of their families and communities.

 

But in many places the shape of communities and mobility infrastructure and the underlying planning assumptions and efforts have continued to reflect those pre-internet, pre-climate change, pre-covid

land use patterns and dynamics. However, the mobility of people and work and goods is being redefined and transformed.  Our land use planning should reflect these changes.   

References

 

5 takeaways from the major new U.N. climate report.

By Henry Fountain

Published Aug. 9, 2021    Updated Oct. 26, 2021

 

“On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body convened by the United Nations, released a major new report concluding that the world cannot avoid some devastating impacts of climate change, but that there is still a narrow window to keep the devastation from getting even worse.

 

The report, based on the analysis of more than 14,000 studies, is the clearest and most comprehensive summary yet of the physical science of climate change. It lays out what the climate was like in the past, what it’s like now and what it will be like for decades to come. And it shows how humans can affect future climate through actions they take — or don’t take — now to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

 

Here are five takeaways from the report:

 

Human influence has unequivocally warmed the planet.

This report is the sixth assessment of climate science by the U.N. group, and unlike previous reports, this one dispenses with any doubt about who or what is responsible for global warming. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the report says in its very first finding.

 

Observed increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1750 can be directly tied to human activity, largely the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels as the world became industrialized. Those emissions have increased greatly over time and continue today, as the world grows even warmer. And the impacts are being felt in every region of the world.

 

Climate science is getting better and more precise.

One of the reasons the report can conclude without a doubt that humans are responsible for global warming is that climate research has greatly improved, even in the eight years since the previous U.N. report was released.

 

There is much more observational data — temperature measurements and other data from instruments on land, in the oceans and in space — that reduce uncertainty as to what is occurring. The improvement is especially noticeable in some less affluent parts of the world that historically had little capacity for collecting climate data.

 

Computer models that simulate the climate have also greatly improved, and there is more computer power to run these simulations faster so that they can be repeated over and over. These improvements, plus the ability to plug more and better data into the models, give scientists more confidence that their models are correctly forecasting future climate.

 

In the last decade great strides have been made in attribution research, which seeks to examine possible links between climate change and specific extreme events like heat waves and heavy rains. Research teams can now quickly analyze an event and determine whether warming made it more or less likely to have occurred, adding to overall confidence in the nature of climate change.

 

We are locked into 30 years of worsening climate impacts no matter what the world does.

The world has already warmed about 1.1 degree Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century. The report concludes that humans have put so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that this warming will continue at least until the middle of the century, even if nations take immediate steps today to sharply cut emissions.

 

That means some of the noticeable effects the world is seeing now — like extreme droughts, severe heat waves and catastrophic downpours and flooding — will continue to worsen for at least the next 30 years.

 

Some other impacts will continue for far longer. The enormous ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica will continue to melt at least through the end of the century. Global sea level will continue to rise for at least 2,000 years.

 

Climate changes are happening rapidly.

The report found that the some of the changes are greater than they’ve ever been compared with previous periods of time ranging from centuries to many millenniums.

 

Concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for example, is greater than at any time in the past two million years. The extent of late-summer sea ice in the Arctic is lower than it’s been any time in the past 1,000 years.

 

But the report also found that changes are happening more quickly now than even in the much more recent past. The rate of sea level rise has roughly doubled since 2006. Each of the past four decades have been successively warmer than the previous one. Heat waves on land have become significantly hotter since 1950 and marine heat waves — bursts of extreme heat in the ocean that can kill marine life — have doubled in frequency in the past four decades.

 

There is still a window in which humans can alter the climate path.

The report laid out five climate futures, in which humans take varying steps to reduce the emissions that cause warming. Under all of them, the world will reach 1.5 degrees — the more ambitious of the targets set by the Paris climate change agreement in 2015 — by 2040 or sooner.

 

Under most of the scenarios discussed in the report, warming will continue well beyond 2040, through the remainder of the century. In the worst cases, where the world does little to reduce emissions, temperatures by 2100 could be 3 to 6 degrees Celsius (5.5 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. That would have catastrophic consequences.

 

But the report shows that aggressive, rapid and widespread emissions cuts, beginning now, could limit the warming beyond 2050. In the most optimistic scenario, reaching “net zero” emissions could even bring warming back slightly under 1.5 degrees Celsius in the second half of the century.

 

Such a scenario would be a mammoth and expensive undertaking for the world. It would also require a level of political will that most governments have so far been unable to muster.”

 

Henry Fountain specializes in the science of climate change and its impacts. He has been writing about science for The Times for more than 20 years and has traveled to the Arctic and Antarctica. @henryfountain • Facebook

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/climate/un-climate-report-takeaways.html?.?mc=aud_dev&ad-keywords=auddevgate&gclid=CjwKCAjw2vOLBhBPEiwAjEeK9ucvG9-RE5iPVVu5jOv14n4sV-8ipPsYcfqGIO6aIbcnepxnjI3yoRoCKLIQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

 

The Future of Work After Covid

 

“The pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation, with up to 25 percent more workers than previously estimated potentially needing to switch occupations.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020. The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: Millions of people were furloughed or lost jobs, and others rapidly adjusted to working from home as offices closed. Many other workers were deemed essential and continued to work in hospitals and grocery stores, on garbage trucks and in warehouses, yet under new protocols to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

 

This report on the future of work after COVID-19 is the first of three MGI reports that examine aspects of the post-pandemic economy. The others look at the pandemic’s long-term influence on consumption and the potential for a broad recovery led by enhanced productivity and innovation. Here, we assess the lasting impact of the pandemic on labor demand, the mix of occupations, and the workforce skills required in eight countries with diverse economic and labor market models: China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together, these eight countries account for almost half the global population and 62 percent of GDP.”

 

https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19

 

 

Montgomery County, Maryland

Thrive 2050 Plan

https://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/master-plan-list/general-plans/thrive-montgomery-2050/

Corridor Forward

https://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/transportation/transit-planning/corridor-forward-the-i-270-transit-plan/