Carroll County's first regional planning conference will open Saturday with presentations from two renowned land-use experts and continue with discussions on how the county should grow during the next decades.
The daylong event has drawn about 150 county and town officials but still needs residents to participate.
"We want the public," said Neil Ridgely, county zoning administrator. "They need to buy into this as we go into the master-plan process."
Carroll officials expect to undertake a comprehensive reworking of the master plan for growth this fall, an effort that should involve everyone, said Frank Johnson, the county's director of legislative services and liaison to the Council of Governments, which organized the conference.
"People need to know - this is your county," Johnson said. "What is done in planning will affect your quality of life for some time to come. You will have to live with it. This master plan will set the stage for the next generation, not just for a couple of years, but to 2030."
People see "planning conference" and immediately think "dry," Johnson said. But he promises exciting speakers, lively discussions and an opportunity to invest in the county's future.
"The conference can bring out ideas about how we should grow and the quality of life that we all want," he said.
Edward T. McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, will open the conference with a presentation on what he calls "the dollars and cents of growing smarter" and the secrets to successful communities.
"Carroll County has to reach a consensus about where it is going and what it will look like in 20 years," McMahon said. "If not, it will be Anyplace, U.S.A. The more people sit down and talk about the future, the more they are likely to buy into the vision for the future."
The county must inventory its assets, most notably its farmland, and build its future on enhancing that land.
"If you screw up the landscape, you destroy the economic underpinnings," said McMahon.
Thomas Hylton, author of Save our Land, Save our Towns, will focus on the traditional community, where residents live within walking distance of jobs, shops, schools and parks.
"There really is no magic to revitalizing towns," he said. "Just go back to the idea of community built on a walking scale, not the car scale. We have created a system that encourages long-distance drives to work. It is destroying the very rural atmosphere that we are all trying to see."
Hylton does not advocate abandoning the automobile, but rather moderating its use. Direct growth to existing communities and surround them with open space, he said.
"If Maryland is to retain its open space, protect the Chesapeake Bay and maintain its farmland, counties will have to reinforce the pattern of towns surrounded by open space," Hylton said.
A recent Carroll land inventory conservatively estimates more than 33,000 lots are available for home construction. If that many homes are built, it could add 100,000 people to the nearly 170,000 residing in the county, said Brenda Dinne, county chief of comprehensive planning.
"The conference will help people spend time to understand the planning process and participate in it," Dinne said.
Johnson gave one more reason to attend the planning conference.
"There is no cost. In fact, there is a free lunch," she said.
The conference runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Scott Center, Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster. Reservations are required. Information: 410- 386-2245.