Construction of scenarios for the future

County residents use blank maps and Lego blocks to plan for growth


Carroll County could handle, oh, maybe one or two new towns, some residents believe.

Winville would be what they would call their new town, combining Taylorsville and Winfield to create a municipal center near where Routes 26 and 27 intersect.

A new high school for the town? They would stash it between the new town and Mount Airy, which lacks a high school.

Armed with hundreds of red Lego blocks, about 80 residents imagined future growth scenarios last week, plotting out the direction of development on a blank county map.

In two "Map It Out!" sessions, concerned citizens and county staffers gathered at cafeteria tables at Winters Mill High School in Westminster to wrestle with the contentious question of where and how to incorporate new residents.

"They were very engrossed," County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said, after visiting a session. "It was like a Scrabble convention."

The workshops came as county officials are seeking public comment in the continuing process of updating the county's comprehensive plan, known as the "Pathways" plan.

County planners hope to foster communitywide consensus on how to shape future projects. Similar growth-imagining exercises have been held in regions across the state and in mushrooming cities, such as Los Angeles and Washington.

Despite their differences, residents agreed on some general themes: Cluster growth around existing towns; limit development in rural villages, which is ruled out completely in the National Historic District of Uniontown; concentrate more houses on less land.

Other than maintaining the county's goal of preserving 100,000 acres of farmland, the workshops were relatively restriction-free. That, and of course, new houses couldn't be shoved into Frederick County or Adams County, Pa.

"We're the ones that need to work with those constraints to get to what you said you want," Brenda Dinne, chief of the Bureau of Comprehensive Planning, told the audience.

Once a group filled in a map, county staffers took digital photographs of each.

The images were projected on a screen, for other groups to critique.

"There are no rules," Jennie Gallardy, another county planner, said to residents at her table. "If you had a clean slate to work with, if you had your dream idea of Carroll County, where would you put growth?"

One group planned for a Main Street-oriented community or a "mini-Columbia" off Interstate 70 near Mount Airy.

"It would be built from scratch, with the idea of employees working there, going to school, living all within walking distance from everything," said Joan McKee of Union Bridge. "The ideal planned community: one where they get it right instead of going back to fix it."

Environmental concerns, for water quality and "green," or environmentally friendly, buildings, were voiced. Rural areas lacking water and sewer connections should be avoided, some said.

"I'm glad I don't live there, because whose septic are you drinking in your well?" Connie Hoge, a Westminster resident, said to her group.

Westminster, the county seat, should receive the most continued growth, others thought.

"Wait, what about Finksburg?" Audrey Cimino, director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, said to her group. "I think we should put some there. I mean, it's already happening."

Cimino was among those who envisioned more apartment buildings by stacking blocks, not 25-story high-rises, but complexes of four to five levels.

"If we're going to have high-rises in Westminster, we need them in Mount Airy, Eldersburg," Roberta Windham, an Eldersburg resident said. She was surprised that her group didn't direct more growth to populous South Carroll.

"Growth-wise it just seems to make the most sense down there," Windham said.

But all the schools in South Carroll are at capacity, she cautioned.

The exercise came naturally to Westminster resident Michelle Jefferson, who is running for a state Senate seat.

"See, I played with Lego blocks as a kid," Jefferson said, demonstrating her architectural prowess. "I didn't play with Barbie dolls. I always liked Lego blocks instead."

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