Frederick Co. troubled by growth

September 26, 1994|By Capital News Service

FREDERICK -- Eight years ago, Robyn Sites moved from College Park to Emmitsburg in northeastern Frederick County, where she found the close-knit community she was looking for.

Now, she says, the city of Frederick has become a suburb of Washington. And some day, she is sure, the suburban landscape will also come to Emmitsburg.

Ms. Sites is not alone in her concerns. An informal survey last week of about 40 people living in Frederick County has shown economic growth is their main worry.

"We're getting like Montgomery County," said Joy Houck, a 46-year-old Realtor from Urbana.

The growth is "steadily coming up 270," she added, referring to the technology corridor that crawls up from the Capital Beltway to Frederick.

Ms. Houck said the county does not sufficiently control building and zoning.

Frederick County Department of Planning and Zoning data show that the value of commercial and industrial real property almost quadrupled between 1980 and 1993.

Thirty-seven shopping centers exist or are under construction, and seven more are planned.

The data also show that the county's population increased by almost 50 percent between January 1980 and January 1994 and is expected to rise an additional 60 percent by the year 2020.

Those numbers have many troubled about the resulting strain on the school system.

Sam Hanlon, a barber in Frederick, said his customers complain a lot about the schools. "New schools are already overcrowded before they open," he said.

The county expects about 10,000 new students in the next 10 years, said Ray Barnes, director of planning and facilities of Frederick County Public Schools.

They would face already overcrowded schools: Enrollment at 17 of the county's 27 elementary schools, for example, is beyond the maximum capacity, Mr. Barnes said.

"It is a problem now, and it will become very challenging," he added.

The population increase also is bringing a rising crime rate and a higher exposure to drugs to areas south of Frederick, some said.

A crime report released by the FBI showed that the number of violent crimes in the county increased by 54 percent between 1982 and 1992, from 548 incidents to 846.

But the data also indicate that the violent crime rate slightly dropped between 1992 and 1993.

"Kids don't have enough to do here," said Frederick resident Greg Thomas. Mr. Thomas, a father of two teen-agers, said that often leads to experimentation with drugs and crime.

"I try to stay focused on my kids," he said. "All you can do is to tell them what is right and what is wrong."

Cathy Davis of Woodsboro said her daughter, a junior at Walkersville High School, saw drugs in the school's bathrooms.

But she added that her home town is a "good area" to live in. "That's why everybody is moving up here," she said.

But the people in the north have begun to look suspiciously to the problems in the south.

"The rural home atmosphere has already been lost here," said John Smith of Thurmont. Seven years ago he moved from Montgomery County "to get away from the crowds," he said.

Besides the loss of coziness, the economic growth in the county has also endangered farms, some farmers said.

The agricultural share of the county work force is steadily decreasing, from 20 percent in 1950 to 4 percent in 1990, according to the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

The market value of farmland rose by more than 60 percent between 1980 and 1993, offering farmers enticement to sell, the data show.

David Harman, a farmer from Sabillasville, works a farm that has been in the family for three generations. He said farmers are inclined to sell because the prices of their products go down while expenses for other goods go up.

"Then the people from the city come, buy the land and develop it," he said, adding that farmers in the area cannot match the prices the developers are able to pay.

For those who stay, the living costs rise steadily because the development brings higher taxes, Mr. Harman said.

But he says he will stand firm. "We're keeping our farm," he said.

Ms. Sites is equally convinced that she will never leave Emmitsburg, because it is a "nicer way of life."

She smiled and declared with some pride that the biggest issue in Emmitsburg these days is "a lady from Arizona who came here

and said she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary."

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