More than 600 new homes could come to Urbana in the coming years, growth that would require changes to the community’s already stressed schools, after the Frederick County Board of Commissioners last week approved a change to the area’s development plan.
The board voted 4-0 on Nov. 20 to approve an amended plan for a section of Urbana on the southwest side of Md. 355 adjacent to Urbana Community Park on the western edge of the community.
Commissioner David Gray was out of town and not present for the vote.
No residents spoke about the proposed plan during a public hearing that preceded the vote.
The change will allow for up to 610 new homes to be built on the 181-acre plot, an increase from the 500 new homes allowed by the original plan.
It also removes a restriction that 200 of the units must be used for residents 55 years old and older.
Tom Natelli, chief executive officer of Natelli Communities, which designed and built the Urbana community, told the commissioners his company had spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the new development would mix with what’s already there.
Natelli said he doesn’t think the neighborhood that mixes residential, commercial and office space would create an attractive market for the senior housing units.
The board also voted to approve changes to a 212-acre site south of Md. 80 and west of Md. 355, just south of the Villages of Urbana.
That change dramatically reduces the land available for commercial retail at the site initially conceived as the location of an outlet mall. It also increases the land available for office space.
The change reduces the amount of space used for commercial retail to 35,000 square feet from 566,500 square feet, and increases the amount of office space from 1.2 million to 2.11 million square feet.
“Essentially, you’re looking at seeing the retail shrink to almost nothing on this site, with an increase in the office uses and employment uses on this site,” said Denis Superczynski of the Frederick County Community Development Division.
Janice Wiles, executive director of Friends of Frederick County, an advocacy group that monitors development, said she hasn’t studied the new proposal but hopes the county paid sufficient attention to the effect the development would have on roads, schools and other public resources, as well as how it fits in with other development projects the commissioners have approved across the county.
“You just hope that they’re looking at it comprehensively, and not just piecemeal,” she said.
The new residential development would put additional pressure on the region’s already overcrowded schools, Superczynski said.
The area’s elementary schools are currently at 110 percent capacity, middle schools are at 124 percent and high schools are at 91 percent, he said.
Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said Natelli had agreed to donate a site for an elementary school, while Urbana Middle School was built with the capability of being expanded for about $2.6 million.
Ray Barnes, executive director of facilities services for Frederick County Public Schools, said Urbana Middle School was designed to be expanded from its current capacity of 600 students to be able to accommodate 900 students.
The new elementary school will be designed to absorb growth from the new development as well as reduce overcrowding at the two current elementary schools in the area.
But with even more development for the region included in the county’s long-range comprehensive plan, how well the schools are able to keep up with all the eventual growth remains to be seen, Barnes said.
Young said getting the new school site will allow the county to put a realistic plan in place for the growth of one of the county’s thriving communities.
“Urbana has brought many great things to our county and is a great community,” he said.