There is still plenty of open and developable land in Frederick County, which begins about five miles south of Liberty. But just as Montgomery County did in the 1960s and 1970s, the Frederick government in recent years has clamped down on construction, sending developers elsewhere to fill the region's voracious appetite for housing.And there's the problem with so-called smart growth: if you just limit the growth in housing, but not the growth in population, the demand will outstrip supply, and you're going to have sprawl and property value problems.
The same is happening in Virginia, where booming Loudoun and Prince William counties are tightening development restrictions. Developers in search of more lenient zoning and greater profit margins are leapfrogging farther out where laws are more permissive and local governments less experienced.
For local governments in the throes of rapid growth, "[housing] density is a four-letter word," said Stephen S. Fuller, a public policy professor at George Mason University. "The consequence is they're pushing the problem to their neighbor, and developers are having to go further and further away because they can't meet the demand for housing closer in."
Meanwhile, the counties that have limited development in the past still have to deal with traffic from the people they've displaced:
A Washington Post reporter leaving Rockville at 4:55 p.m. on a recent weekday arrived in Liberty [80 miles away] almost exactly two hours later, at 6:54 p.m.
Traffic on I-270 came to a complete stop nine times during the ride. The first full stop in traffic came a mere 14 minutes into the commute, where the highway narrows from 12 lanes to eight.
As the sun began to set, and I-270 narrowed to four lanes near the Montgomery-Frederick County line, the rearview mirror was filled with a solid column of white headlights. Ahead lay a continuous strand of red brake lights.
Et voila... Washington. Since concentrated development near D.C. doesn't seem to be an option, the only way to fix sprawl is to reduce the number of jobs. That doesn't seem likely either.