8/29 Sugarloaf Alliance Newsletter

Dear Neighbors and Friends of Sugarloaf,

We have 6 topics for your attention in this newsletter: 

1. URGENT: Amendment Expected to Propose Rt. 80 Boundary

2. Thanks!!

3. Developer Influenced Plan Review at the State Level

4. Sugarloaf Alliance Sues Frederick County for Failure to Respond to Public Information Requests

5. Next Steps: Strategies, schedules, links

6. R.I.P. Doug Kaplan

1. URGENT: Amendment Expected to Propose Rt. 80 Boundary

As you can see from the County Council’s schedule below, on Tuesday, 8/30, Council Members will be discussing Zoning Text Amendments. Council Member McKay proposed 14 amendments last week, which the Sugarloaf Alliance believes are appropriate or, at least, are acceptable compromises. Some are technicalities. One eliminates the “poison pill” amendment sentence on page 54. The other big one proposes to eliminate the Plan’s rezoning of steep slopes and waterways to “Rural Conservation.” That rezoning idea has caused a lot of confusion and consternation among affected property owners. We agree that a more individualized, micro-lens approach could be helpful. However:

 

We now expect that a Council Member will offer an amendment returning the Sugarloaf Plan boundary to Rt. 80. 

 

It is unclear how many Council Members will support this amendment. Please see “Next Steps” below. The good news is that we’re getting to the decision points. The bad news is that the Sugarloaf Plan needs as much of our time and attention as we can spare in this decision-making home stretch. We have to show up.

 

2. THANKS to everyone who showed up wearing green to the County Council meeting this past Monday. It was an impressive visual! Sugarloaf Plan supporters in-person comments and call-ins far outnumbered others. 

3. Sugarloaf Alliance Demonstrates Developer Influence over Plan Review at the State Level

Sugarloaf Alliance filed Maryland Public Information Access requests to the State of Maryland, because we suspected that the developer who owns properties between I-270 and Rt. 80 had undue influence on the required state-level review of the draft Sugarloaf Plan. Sure enough, it turns out that the developer briefed both the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Planning as well as the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Commerce. The Commerce response to Frederick County especially reflects talking points in the briefing document and often made by the developer. 

 

The developer and other opponents of the Plan often cite the Commerce Department’s letter responding to the Plan in their arguments, but clearly this was, at least in part, a back-room production and may have unduly influenced Planning Commission choices (such as the last-minute “amendments” paragraph).

 

Our letter explaining this to the Frederick County Council is posted at Sugarloaf-Alliance.org under "Topic Discussions."  

 

4. Sugarloaf Alliance Sues Frederick County for Failure to Respond to Public Information Requests

For most of this year, Sugarloaf Alliance has been pressing Frederick County to release documents relating to the setting of the Sugarloaf Plan boundaries. Frederick County has failed to respond as required by law. We followed through by filing suit. 

 

There was never an explanation for setting the Rt. 80 boundary in the early pre-publication circulation of the first draft. There was never an explanation for the Thurston Road cut-out that mysteriously appeared before the publication of that July 2021 draft. Both boundary areas exclude, rather precisely, developer-owned property. The Sugarloaf Alliance is determined to learn and share how those lines came to be drawn. Maps illustrating the sequence are posted at our website sugarloaf-alliance.org under "Topic Discussions."  

 

Earlier this year, the Planning Commission opted to eliminate the Thurston Road cut-out and return the eastern boundary to I-270. That is how the boundary is drawn in the current draft. However, pressure is mounting on the County Council to go back to the earlier developer-favored boundary at Rt. 80 and carving out his chunk on Thurston Road. An amendment to this effect may be introduced on Tuesday, 8/30.

 

From our point of view, there are several problems. In terms of the preservation goals of the Plan, development of the acreage west of I-270 make no sense. It’s high ground, and local the streams and the Monocacy will be affected, the view and bucolic rural character of the area will be destroyed, and it’s pretty clear that the suburban sprawl “domino effect” will be in play as rural properties adjacent to dense housing development or commercial or industrial buildings seek rezoning, too. The rationale for the Rt. 80 boundary makes no sense either - there’s no highway interchange design on the books well beyond the expected life of this plan, yet the developer is fighting hard for his “interchange properties” and against the Sugarloaf Plan, and he’s spending a lot of time and money to do it. What’s on HIS drawing board? Something.

 

The other concern we have is the transparency issue in the county process. Boundaries were set with no explanation. Secret meetings were held with Amazon Web Services. A “poison pill” sentence appeared at the last minute of Planning Commission consideration, with no discussion, before the vote. The developer had privileged briefing sessions with the state reviewing agencies as they prepared their reports on the Sugarloaf Plan, and he now bases talking points on those developer-influenced review letters. Maybe it’s our imagination, but Saturday's Frederick News Post editorial reads like they just had a meeting with Somebody. This morning FNP published a pro-Rt. 80 boundary “As I See It” commentary from the Chamber of Commerce CEO, again citing those developer-influenced Maryland Commerce and Planning Dept. review letters as though they were independent and objective. This is why residents tend to think the process is tainted and “you can’t beat City Hall.” 

 

This is the first of ten area plans under the Livable Frederick master plan. Are we ok with this process? Are folks in the other 9 planning areas ok with this kind of behind-the-scenes process, coming your way?

 

Just to be clear, the county planning staff have done exemplary work in preparing the Sugarloaf Plan. We feel confident that the problems we’re trying to bring to light do not originate with the staff. We support the Plan and the staff's good work.

 

5. Next Steps 

 

 

  • Many hands, as they say…. We’re all volunteers. We do what we can. Even if you’ve commented 15 times before, please comment again and again and again. The boundary issue is back. Show up, call in, email. Contact your Council Member. Contact the At-Large Council Members. Contact Council Member Jessica Fitzwater who is running for County Executive, who may be in charge of implementing the Plan and who has yet to take a position. Tell them all: 

 

  • You support the Plan’s I-270 boundary from Montgomery County to the Monocacy.

  • You support the Overlay and the Plan’s preservation goals for the Sugarloaf area.

  • Include a statement about why you appreciate the rural character of the area west of I-270 and why you believe dense development should continue to be focused on the east side of I-270.

  • You oppose the paragraph on page 54, which opens the door to short-term Plan amendments because it creates an explicit opportunity for developers to quickly push for Plan changes despite more than 2 years of work and public input on the current version. 

  • Thank the Council Members for their support of the Sugarloaf Plan.   

  • Find more talking points at our website: sugarloaf-alliance.org

 

Here is a link to the most recent version of the Sugarloaf Plan, as approved by the Planning Commission, and available at the county website: https://www.frederickcountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/337082/Sugarloaf-Area-Plan-FCPC-Draft-2022-03-10

  • Here’s the County Council’s upcoming schedule for considering the Sugarloaf Plan. We will confirm and update this information as dates approach.

 

  • Tuesday, 8/30 at 5:30pm: Discussion of the Plan and Zoning Text Amendments

    • The Council agenda says:

    • VIII. Proposed Bill - Sugarloaf Rural Heritage Overlay District - Tim Goodfellow and Kimberly Brandt, Planning Division & County Attorney’s Office

    •  IX. Sugarloaf Area Plan - Presentation and discussion of proposed changes to Chapters 6, 7 and 8. Sugarloaf Timeline - Tim Goodfellow 

  • Tuesday, 9/6 at 5:30pm: First reading of Zoning Text Amendments

  • Tuesday, 9/13 at 5:30pm: Plan discussion wrap-up

  • Tuesday, 9/27 at 5:30pm: Public Hearing (including any potential amendments)

  • Thursday, 9/29 at 2pm: Back-up hearing

  • Monday, 10/3 at 5:30pm: Plan discussion and final reading of amendments

  • Tuesday, 10/11 at 5:30pm: Discussion on rezoning; public hearing (if needed)

  • Tuesday, 10/18 at 5:30pm: Rezoning discussion continued; public hearing if amended; Plan adoption

  • Tuesday, 10/25 at 5:30pm: Final reader of zoning text amendments (adoption); vote on rezoning

 

Here’s How to Make Your Voice Heard:

  • Please attend some Council Meetings in person. Wear a green shirt to show your support for the Plan. Your presence is a statement. Council meetings are held on the first floor of Winchester Hall, 12 E Church St, Frederick. 

  •  

  •  If you are not able to attend in person, the Council also will continue to take calls. We recommend that you call in and record your comments AFTER the meeting begins at 5:30: Call 855-925-2801 and enter code 8365. You will be prompted to press * for more options. Press 2 to record a voicemail message that will be played during the meeting.

  • Watch the meeting online: https://www.frederickcountymd.gov/1225/FCG-TV

 

 

  • Email or call your Council Member, the At-Large Members, and Candidate Fitzwater:

Steve McKay (District 2), SMcKay@frederickcountymd.gov, 301-600-1034

Michael Blue (VP, District 5) MBlue@FrederickCountyMD.gov, 301-600-1034

Jerry Donald* (District 1), JDonald@FrederickCountyMD.gov, 301-600-2336

Jessica Fitzwater (District 4), JFitzwater@FrederickCountyMD.gov, 301-600-2336

M.C. Keegan-Ayer (Pres., District 3), MCKeegan-Ayer@FrederickCountyMD.gov, 301-600-1101

Kai Hagen (At Large), KHagen@FrederickCountyMD.gov, 301-600-2336

Phil Dacey (at Large), PDacey@FrederickCountyMD.gov, 301-600-1034

 

* The Sugarloaf Plan area is within Councilman Donald’s district.

 

6. R.I.P. Doug Kaplan

It is with regret and sorrow that we share news of the passing of Doug Kaplan. He was a founder and the President of the Sugarloaf Conservancy. When the community had won on the PATH power line issue, it was decided to end the organization rather than limp along, looking for further windmills. A few years later, when the gun range raised its ugly head, Doug and Peggy invited to their house many neighbors who had been active in the Conservancy, and pressed for beginning a new organization, called Sugarloaf Alliance, with officers other than themselves. That didn't keep them for working harder than anyone else for defeat of the gun range. No one cared more for the well-being of Frederick County. https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/fredericknewspost/name/douglas-kaplan-obituary?id=36338996

 

 

 

As always, thanks for all you do. It’s going to take a BIG village to lift this across the finish line.

     The Sugarloaf Alliance represents over 450 stakeholders in the Sugarloaf region. The Alliance’s mission is to protect the unique natural and historical aspects of the Sugarloaf Mountain area and its environment through education and initiatives in support of watersheds, streams, meadows, forests, and historic sites. Working with volunteers, civic groups, and local, state, and federal agencies, the organization’s primary goal is to preserve the unique character and serenity of the area for future generations.  Sugarloaf Alliance is a 501(c)(3) organization.

 

       Steve Black, President

       Sue Trainor, Vice President

       Nick Carrera, Treasurer

       Johanna Springston, Secretary