ENVISION ESSENTIALS Session I Recap: Smart Growth: Land Use and Planning

Please take a few moments to read about this new program. Three out of the four 2019 sessions are still to come (with Session II this Saturday, June 15th). It might be just what you were looking for, even if you didn’t know it.

On Saturday, May 18th, twenty-eight Frederick County residents came together at the beautiful Thorpewood Lodge (set in the forest, in the heart of the Catoctin Mountains) for Session 1 of our new ENVISION ESSENTIALS program.


Attendees of the first session of our inaugural program, Envision Essentials, at Thorpewood in the Catoctin Mountains.

We are very excited about this new Envision Frederick County program, which closely aligns with our operating principle that informed public discourse and active engagement of individuals and groups in our civic life are essential to our mutual well-being and prosperity.

ENVISION ESSENTIALS is comprised of four distinct sessions, each on a Saturday, spread out over two months, in four great venues scattered across our beautiful county. Each session runs from 9:00am to 3:00 or 3:30 pm, and includes a nice lunch and a walking tour (see below).

You can email me at kai.hagen@envisionfrederickcounty.org if you want to sign up or learn more about it. But please take a look at the descriptions below first.

Envision Essentials

(click the image to open a larger version)

The subject of this session was SMART GROWTH: LAND USE AND PLANNING. And we put together a great line up of presentations.

The day started with coffee and donuts, and a warm welcome from Julie Stimpfle-Castleman, the owner of Mountain Memories, which books and manages events at ThorpeWood. Julie shared information about the stunning lodge and the 155-acre mountain retreat, which is hidden off a quiet mountain road, set into a forested hillside overlooking a native trout stream, and nestled 1,500 feet high in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont, MD. Among other things, Thorpewood is a great resource for non-profit organizations in our broader community.

Julie Stimpfle-Castleman

Julie Stimpfle-Castleman, the owner of Mountain Memories, which books all events at ThorpeWood.

Envision Frederick County’s Director, Kai Hagen, talked about the structure and purpose of the day’s line up of presentations and discussions, and set them up with a look at the impact of land use, planning and development choices on everything else in our community, and the value and importance of adhering to fundamental Smart Growth principles.

Kai Hagen, Director of Envision Frederick County

Next up was Eric Soter, Principal and Director of Research & Analytics at Rodgers Consulting and the former Director of Planning for Frederick County. Eric gave a great presentation, entitled “Planning 101″ (or ”An Introduction to Frederick County Planning and Zoning“).

As the title suggests, the presentation focused on the basic structure in which planning works and development happens in the county, including the process (comprehensive planning and individual zoning and development elements and processes) and the parts (the role of the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, etc). He also helped clarify the role of the County Executive and County Council in planning, and the broad state parameters within which county planning occurs.

It’s not the same without Eric’s commentary, but you can download his excellent 15 page PowerPoint presentation HERE.

Eric Sotter

Eric Soter, (Principal, Director of Research & Analytics at Rodgers Consulting and the former Director of Planning for Frederick County

We then moved to a very timely and fairly detailed presentation about the Livable Frederick Comprehensive Plan from two very experienced Frederick County planners, Denis Supercynski and John Dimitriou. Denis and John shared a relatively in-depth version of their excellent presentation on the important, three-year Livable Frederick process and the current draft, with time for questions and discussion.

Please note that the long Livable Frederick process is just entering the homestretch, the Planning Commission has approved their recommended draft, and is officially handing it off to the County Council on Wednesday, June 12th for final review and adoption (over the next 90 days).

You can read more about and download the FCPC Recommended Livable Frederick Master Plan HERE.

Denis Supercynski and John Dimitriou

Denis Supercynski and John Dimitriou, Frederick County planners

After that information-packed morning, we had a nice lunch, before taking a walking tour of Thorpewood landscape, including the pine grove, the Icelandic horses, the arboretum and Willow Pond, where everyone got to see the beaver lodge (but not the beavers, which are usually sleeping in the lodge in the middle of the day).

Thorpewood walk

Thorpewood walk

After we got back to the lodge, we heard from Jim Racheff, who was there to offer a personal perspective as a long time, very engaged citizen, who, among other things, has served as Chair of the Livable Frederick Steering Committee and as a member of the City of Frederick Board of Zoning Appeals. Jim shared some of that rich experience as examples of ways that an active citizen and volunteer can be meaningfully engaged in local government and planning in a variety ways, in both the city and county.

Jim Racheff

Jim Racheff, active citizen, Chair of the Livable Frederick Steering Committee, member of the City of Frederick Board of Zoning Appeals, etc.

Rich Hall

Rich Hall, certified professional planner, former Maryland Department of Planning Secretary, under O’Malley, a “Smart & Sustainable Growth Leader”

Finally, we heard from Richard Hall, a certified professional planner and the former Maryland Department of Planning Secretary, for eight years in the O’Malley administration — a “Smart & Sustainable Growth Leader.” Rich provided a valuable historical context, details about the role of state government in land use and planning, a look at some Smart Growth tools, and more. No doubt, we could easily dedicate an entire session to Rich and his wealth of knowledge and experience!

Rich has 19 slides to go along with his talk. Not remotely as useful without the verbal context, but still some good stuff. You can download his slides HERE.

Rich also shared a short (two and a half minutes) video from 2015, about the Maryland Department of Planning receiving the American Planning Association’s National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Agency. Check it out!

We were very pleased about the way everything went for the first session of our first go round with Envision Essentials. We will learn from and build on this as the program develops and evolves, but the success of this day was due to the combination of an outstanding line up of presenters, a great mix of engaged participants, a fantastic venue and the invaluable planning and organizing efforts of Mary Ellen Mitchell from Allow Me Consulting!

We hope you will consider joining us for future sessions of Envision Essentials!