OPINION: Looking Ahead to St. Mary's County 2020

By Bob Schaller, Director Economic & Community Development, St. Mary's County

If somehow you woke up today and it was the year 2020 in St. Mary's County, what would it look like? I'm sure you'd recognize a lot, but chances are there would be much that was new and unfamiliar. If you were around a dozen years ago in Leonardtown for example and fast-forwarded to 2008 you'd have a similar experience, except that you'd have the benefit of hindsight. Foresight is always much harder.

The County has begun a major update of the St. Mary's County Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), last amended in 2003 and titled, "Quality of Life in St. Mary's County - A Strategy for the 21st Century." It is accessible online at http://www.stmarysmd.com/lugm/docs/CompPlanamendedMarch03.pdf The Comprehensive Plan specifies the kind of future growth patterns that will allow the County to best achieve its goals, and to determine what local government policies and actions would best achieve that growth pattern. State law requires that counties conduct this review every six years. This update will be completed July 2009.

This review is critically important because what comes from it is guidance for changes in our zoning ordinance. Basic questions are addressed like what type of growth do we desire as a community and where should it be directed? Of course underpinning this growth are the new jobs created by the region's largest employer, NAS Patuxent River. How do we continue to support the base, attract and retain new workers to keep it growing? At the same time, how do we preserve our quality of life, the vast acreage of farmland, the hundreds of miles of shoreline, the historic sites we treasure as the Mother County of Maryland? These questions bring additional questions about basic infrastructure such as water & sewerage, schools, roads, parks, libraries, public safety. The list goes on. In the end it's about keeping our community sustainable and every six years we have an opportunity to have a say in the planning process.

We're now a community of 100,000 residents. It's taken 375 years to achieve this milestone. In perspective, 15% (about 15,000) of our population has arrived since the year 2000 alone. Current projections put us at a population of 130,000 by 2020, and conceivably 200,000 by 2050. Who knows if this will occur? But that's what our estimates tell us, plus these dates are not that far away. What's important is that we participate in the community discussion about getting to whatever future population is in store for the County.

Part of the update process involves gathering inputs from the community. A series of five community meetings are scheduled throughout the County during July 2008 and will provide an opportunity for those who participate to help assess whether the County is on the correct course for development and preservation. These meetings begin at 7:00pm, are open to the public and will be as follows:

-- Wednesday, July 9 - Lettie Dent Elementary School in Charlotte Hall

-- Thursday, July 10 - Seventh District Fire Department in Avenue

-- Wednesday, July 16 - Leonardtown Middle School

-- Wednesday, July 23 - Lexington Park Library

-- Thursday, July 31 - Ridge Elementary School

Community participation in this process is critically important. I ask you to get involved in any way you can. Start by looking around your neighborhood, on the drive to work or school, or as you shop or visit the park on the weekend, or in any other everyday setting. Think about the patterns that have developed along the Rt. 235 and Great Mills corridors, Leonardtown, in North County consisting of Charlotte Hall, New Market, and Mechanicsville, in South County from the south gate of the base down to Ridge and beyond. And everywhere in between.

I further ask you to try to make one of the community meetings in July. If you can't please stay posted, watch the discussion on Channel 95, and follow the coverage in the media. Send in your comments via e-mail, over the phone, or in any other fashion. Write to the Board of County Commissioners at PO Box 653, Leonardtown, MD 20650 or by emailing bocc (at) stmarysmd.com.

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