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Livable Frederick: Does a Common Vision mean Less Citizen Control?

And whose common vision was it anyway? 

A fewlivable-frederick-second-look weeks back I pinned a blog post entitled Livable Frederick: Is It The Answer To The Future Of Our County? In that article I offered an opinion of what I saw as a very flawed process in the laying of the foundation for County Executive Gardner’s grand new revamp of the manner in which county government should approach the concept of comprehensive planning.

While readers can review the article in detail, the core of the argument is that the Gardner appointed workgroup claimed to have touched an extreme cross section of county residents, as well as leaders in business, education, health and the environment in the crafting of the a new and improved “Common Vision” for the future of Frederick County. The fact, which has been reconfirmed to me multiple times since the post was published, is that that statement is very far from the truth. Ms. Gardner also claims that she kept her distance from being involved on the final crafting of the 161 page Livable Frederick Master Plan, when in fact some of her own loyal acolytes had to admit that after the lead consultant for the project quit, she spent hours reviewing and editing the document to meet “her” vision.

Confirming Feedback

In early February when my commentary was posted on the web, I openly stated that had not reviewed the LFMP (as it is referred to) enough to cast an opinion on the document itself. My focus in the development of any strategic document for whatever purpose is always more about the process that was used to put the plan together than the actual final document itself. All too often, in government, business and education (to name a few), it seems that the final outcome ends up being the vision of a cabal of the originators, who use a well orchestrated (manipulated) process to present the appearance of a larger group buy-in. And it is clear to me that after the subsequent feedback that I have received from members of the Livable Frederick Steering Committee and its workgroups that the so called buy-in and consensus touted in the plan and by its presenters was more of a railroad job … and I’m not referring to mass transit here!

As an aside, one insider who was actively involved in the authorship of the master plan told me that one of his reasons for participating in the process was to help the county set itself up so that it can provide a “livable” wage for all county residents in the not too distant future. Really? I asked!

Ok, so now we know why the word “Livable” was incorporated in the name?

Ah, but I digress!!

Even putting aside the aforementioned statements, the manner in which the workgroups were assembled is for me even more questionable.

Questionable Foundation

Consider the four pillars on which the entire plan was built upon: Our Community, Our Economy, Our Health and Our Environment.

In my last article, it was noted that the expertise of Chamber of Commerce leadership, much less interaction with major employers of the county were not utilized to establish a framework for the Economy Section of the plan. Since that time, I have also learned from a Gardner insider that the outreach to real estate development community was so limited and selective that it was the opinion of workgroup members that there was really no interest from members of their group to participate. In follow up to that I reached out members of the development and building community who tried to be involved and it was clear to them that while it was nice for them to be in the room, they felt their input was not welcomed.

Let’s jump to the “Our Health” pillar. While the focus in the plan is on planning for “public” health, it is beyond me, why the steering committee did not seek the input from the resources of top management at Frederick Memorial Health System, our community’s one and only hospital? FMH, as it is known, is not just community hospital, it has been recognized on a national scale for its leadership in excellent customer service and cutting edge technology. It could have provided tremendous assistance in developing the so-called Common Vision.

Yes, it true … the largest private employer in our county was not included in the development of Ms. Gardner’s LFMP.

Have you read the Plan?

So, yes, I have now read the LFMP, as well as listened to a presentation given by three of the county’s senior planners, each of whom I have the utmost respect. From the layman’s perspective however, my take on document is that it talks way above heads of the average person. Written is such a manner that it will send tingles up the legs of most planners, it appears to state that the Common Vision that was conjured up Gardner’s select group will be the foundation for establishing future comprehensive plans and thereby future zoning categories and designations.

It touts the need to be flexible, because like looking out on the horizon, one never knows what the future will bring. But on the other hand, it seems to strongly imply that county government will need to have more control over future transit ways, types of housing and business, and clearly a much heavier hand in the rights of land owners.

Who will make the decisions?

The ironic part of how the plan is pitched is that this is supposed to be a “new kind of planning” taken from a thematic approach using matrixes and schematic planning. Whatever all that is really supposed to mean, it uses these phrases to give the impression that our old way of planning was not really comprehensive, but more done in silos, which in the end resulted in a mismatch odd incompatible components.

Frankly, after reading all this, I’m shocked that Frederick County has turned out to be one of the handful of the best places to live the USA! So much for the old way of planning.

The very hard part to actually discern is how the process of making decisions to adopt new land use policies will work. It didn’t tell me who or what body of government will be in charge of making these critical decisions other than a charge to the Planning Commission.

Will the public actually have more or less opportunity to provide input in the future to the plan as it changes, and how will that look? The flexibility and process of how this will be carried out seems to reside more with those who are employed in Winchester Hall than in the public itself.

And if public input is sought for the plan in the future, will that input be restricted to a carefully selected group of like-minded constituents?

As in the case of the last time I opined on this subject, I welcome feedback from all sides, as I believe that there is a lot to fear in this proposed LFMP.

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Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He has been an active member of the Frederick, Maryland community for over four decades. He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012.  He currently serves as chairman of the board of Frederick Mutual Insurance Company. Established in 1843, it is one of the longest enduring businesses in Frederick County

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