MOUNT AIRY — Crafting a master plan is one of those municipal undertakings that requires about one part planning and three parts clairvoyance.
"Youtry to look into your crystal ball and say, 'This is where we are and here's where we're going,' " said Fred Goundry, chairman of the Planning Commission.
For several months, town planners have been at work on the latestupdate of the plan, which is revised every 10 years or so.
Just what is a master plan?
The plan serves as a blueprint for future growth and development in the town, said Town Planner Teresa Merten.
"It's a tool to guide development of the town," said Merten, who became the town's first full-time planner when she was hired in December. "That's not specifically development by developers, but to guide general growth and change in the town."
Planners will pore over dataon local traffic, population and utilities. The information will be used to designate areas suitable for future growth, while other areas-- such as woodlands and waterways -- will be earmarked for preservation.
The plan also will include recommendations on infrastructureto serve the needs of projected population growth.
But by simply compiling data and projections, a master plan becomes just that -- a pile of numbers. Merten said the data could best be used to help planners generate ideas for maintaining and improving the town's quality of life.
"I just think we need to take it another step further andlook in a more qualitative way, to look at what contributes to maintaining the quality of life here," she said. "It's a little different than looking at the 'quantity' of life."
Aside from projections onhow things are likely to change, the Mount Airy master plan will contain ideas on what things in town should remain the same, said Merten.
Planners say they're aware that many citizens don't want to see Mount Airy's small-town character overwhelmed by development. But preserving character can be a tricky task, especially in a town where growth is knocking virtually on all sides, Goundry said.
"That's thedilemma at this point, trying to maintain this small-town concept with the number of people we're going to be trying to handle," he said.
No matter how brilliant a master plan is, its utility is limited,the planners say. That's because the plan is not binding. It contains recommendations, not mandates.
Primarily, the plan can be usefulto developers considering projects in and around town, Merten said. By reviewing the master plan, they can get a quick idea of whether their projects are a good match for the community, Merten said.
A master plan also can be used by potential homebuyers, who can get a rough idea of what town leaders have in mind for areas adjacent to houses they are considering buying.
And a master plan serves as a guideto county planners -- Mount Airy is bordered by both Carroll and Frederick counties -- when they are making their own land-use decisions in nearby areas.
"It should be useful on a day-to-day basis," saidMerten.
A completed plan is expected to be ready to forward to the Town Council by year's end, Goundry said. Master plans typically are bulky documents, but Merten said Mount Airy's doesn't have to be that way.
"It doesn't need to be a book," she said. "There's no needto over-complicate it. If it's going to be useful as a tool, it should be concise and to the point.
"If you could do it in six pages, I'd be very happy."
In an effort to garner citizen input, the Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on its proposed plan before shipping it to the Town Council.
The council also will schedule a hearing before acting on the measure.
Despite the uncertaintyof trying to figure out what the future may hold for the town, some things can be forecast with reasonable certainty, Merten and Goundry said.
For one, the town's population will grow, perhaps to as muchas 10,000 by the turn of the century.
Also, an upgrade of the town's sewer system likely would have to be initiated to meet the needs of a growing population.