Gray: Frustration over Freedom Plan continues a year later

My frustration starts with an insinuation that there were two equal sides being argued at the public hearing for the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan on July 11. This just is not so. By my count, two individuals requested permission for “grandfathered- zoning” for their commercial properties into the existing plan. While 23 individuals stood up in opposition to all or parts of the plan. And only four people stated they were in favor of the plan as it exists currently. Hardly equal sides. And very similar to what was heard one year ago.

Couple that with the fact that, while instructions were given on how the audience was to behave (no applause, no shouting, no name calling etc.), many chose to ignore one of those instructions, and applause resounded throughout the evening. All 23 speakers who spoke in opposition to the plan received applause. This was discouraged by the chair and an occasional comment was made by the planning director. However, of the nearly 130 audience members many of them spoke with their hands rather than their own words. This, in my opinion, is noteworthy.


Over and over again people stepped up to make their concerns known about traffic safety, failing roadways and dangerous intersections. The plan was called out for the “appearance” of changing land uses on some parcels, but was mocked because it is essentially the same plan as 2017, with new titles attached and a revised mission statement. The complaints issued about increased densities and intensities on specific parcels for the past three years, have remained largely ignored.

Repeatedly, people called for lower densities and uses compatible to what has existed or been planned to exist, for decades. Additionally, by any standard, one can’t simply read the plan through and know what changes have been made. You have to go to appendix after appendix and search several tables to understand what can be built on a given “type” of land use. It’s an exhausting effort. But doesn’t need to be.

The problem of outdated zoning codes was mentioned at least a half dozen times. This is the basis on which the plan rests. And while the Planning Department mantra is “some parcels and growth won’t occur for a decade,” the reality is the big density change parcels are set to put shovels in the ground ASAP when this plan is complete. Owners of the properties in question have said so publicly at previous Planning and Zoning meetings.

Repeatedly, it is acknowledged that the intended 1977 and 2001 master plans were not appropriately implemented, because variances and exceptions were allowed to supersede “good” planning. But today, we do not have to bend to more bad ideas. We have this chance to course correct a little bit.

Fundamentally, no amount of planning can reduce the costs of prime real estate. And while we hear the cry for more affordable housing, what people are really saying is, “I want a nice, new home that I can easily pay for.” But economic realities in the Freedom area won’t allow that. The most expensive land left in the area won’t be sold cheaply. So all the best intentions for mixed-use, planned-use developments or small homes on smaller lots, just won’t happen on these remaining properties. We won’t see the diversity in housing types that is hoped for. And a land-use designation is no guarantee of how any new project will come to fruition, without better codes implemented and enforced.

As choices for housing go, the Town of Sykesville is working with the state, county and developers to offer more housing diversity in a Planned Unit Development situation at Warfield. So new options in this area are coming online soon without overburdening the few remaining acres of open spaces in the Gibson, Beatty and Wolf zone.

And no, not every person who spoke was a “senior citizen.” Many young people spoke up about this plan. There were new members of the community as well as people aging in place and lots of others in between. And on that topic, yes, aging in place is a real concern nationwide and right here. But the Freedom Plan doesn’t address that problem either … it never has.

Beth Gray writes from Eldersburg.