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As Long as We Remember...

April 5, 2004

Frederick at A Crossroads

Joe Volz

The Frederick Guide reports, "For 255 years, the City of Frederick has stood at the crossroads of history." What will those historic crossroads look like 20 years from now? Will the relentless engines of development conquer history?

Will the lands around Antietam and South Mountain and Monocacy, where so much blood was shed more than a century ago, fall now to developers without a shot being fired?

Recently, I attended the Frederick 101 course sponsored by the city fathers and mothers. It was held weekly at City Hall and we had an all-star cast of lecturers, including the mayor, police chief, planning director and financial chief. At the end, we got to give our own paper on the state of the city.

Here is my guess on what the city might look like 20 years from now.

Already urban/suburban sprawl has enveloped Arlington and Fairfax and Bethesda and moved into Montgomery in a big way.

The auto has also spawned a huge highway system, wider roads, more parking lots, and garages. And in our quest for mobility we have created a massive sprawl, which one day will engulf all the East Coast from Washington to Boston.

The car-induced sprawl has robbed small towns and cities across the country of their identity, and in many cases, their history.

"We never projected that everyone would have three cars," says a chagrined City Planner Chuck Boyd. Mayor Jennifer Dougherty agrees. She says, "Twenty years ago, the city put out the welcome mat for development. Not bad by itself, because this is a great place to call home. It has led to congested roads because we would not invest in the road network and mass transit."

Mass transit?

It is a concept that has not been fully embraced by Frederick since the highways arrived. A modest bus system runs through town but the vast majority of residents never use it. And the heavily-subsidized MARC train from Frederick to Washington carries only a small proportion of commuters. The last train leaves town at 7:15 a.m. at a snail's pace. It takes 1 hours to make the 40 mile trip to Washington.

The prevailing wisdom among city planners is that more clean businesses, that don't cost the county too much in services because they don't send children to county schools, are essential. A city that doesn't grow dies, so goes the mantra of the experts.

Of course, the big question is: How will the city grow?

The city, in its desire to grow and bring in more people and more business, could in the process go a long way towards becoming another urbanized Bethesda or Arlington, with multi-story high-rises and high density populations.

Mr. Boyd notes, "Very rarely does land change unless someone makes money. You have to know the economics of the situation."

And the economics of the situation make it difficult to preserve a city like Frederick unless a lot of money can be made by the people who build houses and offices and lure tourists.

Frederick with its stately old homes, Civil War history, and beautiful mountains nearby, certainly is a major tourist attraction. And its baseball team, the Keys, also is becoming an attraction for out-of-towners sick of paying high major league prices. There's every reason to think that with careful planning, Frederick can become even more of a tourist magnet.

So, what will the state of the City of Frederick be like in 2024?

I predict a city population of 150,000 (provided our water problems are solved by the Potomac pipeline and the city annexes outlying regions at the behest of developers).

The highways will be widened, particularly I-270, bringing even more cars in and out of and around town. A couple more malls will be built

Francis Scott Key Mall will be just as congested as Tyson's Corner and more upscale department stores and boutiques will clamor for space. Look for Lord and Taylor's and Bloomingdale's, for instance, to offer their wares to the city's citizens.

Of course, Routes 355 and 85 will have to expand to accommodate all of this traffic in the south end. The north side of town, Rt. 26, will become a traffic nightmare as Worman's Mill and other developments continue to grow and housing sprouts up on Rt. 15 along the way to Gettysburg.

Yet, downtown could and should be revitalized. If Carroll Creek, in development planning for 30 years or so, finally does get going, as is anticipated, new upscale condos and apartment buildings, arriving long before 2024, will provide housing for thousands of professionals who will walk to restaurants downtown.

We'd like to see the city officials take the bold step of permanently closing several blocks along Market and Patrick streets to traffic. The central section of the downtown then would function similarly to the town centers of ancient times. People would be free to walk and talk without worrying about cars running them down and motorcycles drowning them out as they dined at outdoor tables. (That is if the city can finally come to agreement with merchants on where to put the tables and how much of a fee to charge.)

Mayor Dougherty put it this way in her 2004 State of the City speech: "Almost everyone believes that growth is inevitable. Whether it occurs in the city or the county, the open land around the city will likely develop. Who should control the 'what' and the 'when' is the question. We will have to deal with it-honestly and clearly. Only we can protect our interests, but we have to follow the plan."


For information about participating in the next Frederick 101 course, contact Sarah Finefrock, city Community Outreach assistant, at Phone 301-694-1381.

E mail Joe Volz at

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