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Volume 14, Number 4 • July-August 1996
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Are There Better Ways to Grow?

[Calvert Co. growth chart

"It was already obvious in 1970 that we would become a magnet for growth," says Bernie Fowler. "People were looking for peace and tranquility and that's what Calvert County had to offer." That was more than 40,000 people ago.

In the 1970s, the population of this largely agricultural county had already doubled since 1950. The widening of Route 2/4, Calvert County's major thoroughfare, had begun along with the building of Baltimore Gas and Electric's nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs.

This is the kind of public construction that invites growth, promotes development, and accelerates change. At first, Calvert County was not prepared -- developers came in and started building but there was little in the way of guidelines, for instance, no subdivision regulations, no road specifications. "So much needed to be done," says Fowler, a former county commissioner and recently retired state senator.

The first step was the Peninsula Plan, a long-range blueprint that involved "bringing county residents together to try and design the best possible growth plan we could," says Fowler. This plan led to the county developing recreational areas, building a new hospital, instituting an agricultural preservation program, and improving schools. All of this progress made Calvert more attractive and even more people came. "It's like a dog chasing its tail," says Fowler.

What does this rapid development mean for the future? Is it possible to retain qualities that first attracted people to the county, while still accommodating growth -- and what would it take? These are the kinds of issues that the county continues to deal with.

In 1992, the Department of Planning and Zoning did a survey of county residents, says director Frank Jaklitsch, to see if "there are physical things we could do to promote a sense of being at home in Calvert County, a sense of identity, as well as opportunities for interaction or involvement."

"Through forums and workshops," says Jaklitsch, "we evolved several notions dealing with town centers -- identifying a sense of place with town centers, not just [building] strip malls."

"We were also interested in [giving guidance to] developers of subdivisions," he says. "Could we come up with some approaches to give people a sense of place, rather than just suburban boxes?" The outcome is a series of guidelines that new subdivisions must meet: they must be buffered from main roads and adjoining properties, they must be clustered, and they must have a "focal point," an area that is central to the cluster and gives some sense of coherence. "We wanted to be flexible," Jaklitsch says, "and not specify what such a focal point should be -- we are looking for innovative approaches."

Though it is too early to say how these guidelines are working, Jaklitsch is encouraged by recent innovations in some of the new subdivisions. Still, they are only part of the answer. The big question remains, says Bernie Fowler: can we continue to grow and still sustain the kind of life we have had in Calvert County?

Stay tuned to find out.




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