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Freedom area planner takes job with state; She will oversee coastal zone growth for DNR division; Work with county praised; She had major hand in comprehensive report for S. Carroll


After spending three years charting a future for the county's fastest-growing area, Raj Williams is leaving Carroll's Department of Planning for a job with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Williams, responsible for overseeing growth in the Freedom -- or South Carroll -- area, will watch over development in the state's coastal zone management division.

"I am going from a land-locked county to coastal areas, but I expect there will still be a lot of citizen outreach," she said. "I should know how to deal with that from my experiences in Freedom."

Freedom is home to nearly 30,000 residents, including a large number of community activists. Williams has frequently heard residents complain that growth has outpaced infrastructure in Freedom.

Portable classrooms surround schools; roads are clogged; and the area is facing its fourth consecutive summer of water shortages.

"A planner's major challenge is trying to explain the complexities of planning in the context of community areas and how growth needs to be concentrated in those areas," she said.

"On one side, you have priority growth areas; and on the other, you have citizens who are rightfully opposed to more growth until they have the roads, schools and other infrastructure they need for a good quality of life."

South Carroll is no different from any other area, beset with the problems of rapid growth, she said.

"Any community in Maryland today faces the same issues," she said. "There are growth concerns and infrastructure concerns, and there is usually a vocal group opposed to development. If you are not able to handle the political arena, then you should not be in this business."

"Raj Williams has always been very professional, pleasant and kind," said Phil Bennett, a member of the Freedom Area Citizens Council.

"Whenever there have been questions, she has been willing to answer. It will take someone new a long time to become as effective."

Council Chairman Nimrod Davis said he has spoken to Williams frequently on issues related to South Carroll.

"She is a pleasure to work with," said Davis. "She really is the only certified planner in that department."

Williams has worked closely with the Freedom council and other residents groups. She meets regularly with leaders of Mount Airy and Sykesville, as well as state and county officials.

She was largely responsible for writing the Freedom Area Comprehensive Plan, a voluminous document that covers development in South Carroll and awaits adoption by the Board of County Commissioners.

Like many of her planning colleagues in Carroll, Williams has a master's degree. Hers is in city and regional planning from Clemson University in South Carolina. She is also certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners.

A good planner needs training, as well as political and technical skills, she said. She developed a good rapport with residents, particularly those who volunteered to help with the growth plan.

"This job is not just writing a plan, but making it happen," said Williams, who left her county job yesterday.

"You don't want something that will end up on the shelf. It is also about bringing people to the table and getting consensus on issues."

Steven Horn, county director of planning and Williams' supervisor, said, "The plan was Raj's big project." Her tasks have been varied and successful, he said.

"She has a good rapport with Sykesville and Mount Airy," he said. "She has done a really good job working with developers."

Williams' efforts will make the new Eldersburg Market Place more architecturally attractive and more pedestrian-friendly, Horn said. She has also helped towns through difficult annexation negotiations.

"We will miss her level of knowledge and the experience she brought to the job," said Horn, who added that it would be a few months before Williams' position is filled.

As a bonus for Williams, the Annapolis resident has shortened her daily one-way commute by more than 50 miles. She'll work in her hometown.

"When you find the right job, the commute does not matter," she said. "I have truly enjoyed working in the South Carroll area as a planner. There are diverse groups of people, some more intense and vocal than others. But we have had good communication. You can accomplish so much with that."

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