Can Frederick County ever be ‘Montgomery County North’?

By GARY BENNETT and HUGH GORDON, The Frederick News-Post

You hear the sentiment thrown around all the time: “If we don’t stop all of this development, Frederick’s going to become Montgomery County North.”

Hyperbole? Sure. But like a lot of things, if we don’t rely on facts, misinformation can take hold.

It makes a nice political sound bite and is easy to fall back on when we see traffic getting heavier and schools more crowded. We do have an infrastructure problem that will take real political will to solve.

The hard truth, however, is we still don’t have enough housing in this county to satisfy demand. That is irrefutable.

Experts and politicians from both sides say so. But not just that, ask the 20- and 30-year-olds around Frederick who would like to purchase a starter home but can’t. Ask the working parents about finding a reasonable rent that doesn’t take most of their paycheck.

Ask the 60- or 70-year-olds who want to downsize but can’t find anything to downsize into. The problem is real and the construction you see is Frederick County’s attempt to bring balance back to the housing market.

When comparing Frederick County with Montgomery County, here are some facts to consider.


Montgomery County is huge. Frederick County has about 290,000 people; Montgomery County has nearly 1.1 million.

In geographic size, Frederick County is the largest in the state. We have a land mass of about 660 square miles. Montgomery County has about 493 square miles. Frederick County has a density of about 440 people per square mile while Montgomery County’s is about 2,100 people per square mile. It would take growth of biblical proportions for Frederick County to get anywhere near the density of Montgomery County.


Frederick and Montgomery counties are growing at comparable rates. Most growth in Montgomery County is concentrated in nine large cities or areas, including Bethesda and Silver Spring, which mostly border Washington, D.C. In Frederick County, most growth is centered in and around the city of Frederick, where infrastructure and transit options are strongest.

In Montgomery County, the growth in the larger cities near Washington, D.C., has been allowed to run together, giving it a feel of sprawl. In Frederick County, most municipalities have adopted slow-growth policies. Because of this and the open-space initiatives discussed below, there can be no running together of municipalities in Frederick County.


In Frederick and Montgomery counties, large swaths of land must be kept perpetually rural because of Maryland’s agricultural reserve program. In fact, the northern part of Montgomery County is just as rural, if not more so, than Frederick County. One-third of Montgomery County, or 93,000 acres, has been designated as the Agricultural Reserve.

But Frederick County does a better job.

Its priority preservation program seeks to permanently preserve at least 160,000 acres of agricultural land and protect a total agricultural base of 200,000 acres as a rural reserve to support a diversity of agricultural practices.

When you add on land in programs like the conservation reserve enhancement program (CREP) and the Creek Releaf program, land protected in stream buffers and county parkland, the county aims to have over 200,000 of its 427,000 acres (47%) in some type of program that is or is intended to be protected against development.

The availability of adequate public facilities focuses planning and development on the municipalities of the county, chiefly the city of Frederick. Therefore, discussions shouldn’t center on maintaining the agricultural nature of the county that we all love — that is not going away—but rather should be focused on how we can best plan for development in the municipalities of the county.


It is convenient to claim that large numbers of people from Montgomery County are moving to Frederick County every day to escape growth and taxes. Some of that is happening, but not as much as we think.

According to the 2020 American Community Survey, roughly 16,000 people migrated into Frederick County from 2016 to 2020. During this same time, about 14,100 migrated out, for a net gain of nearly 2,000. Would anybody have guessed this?

Of the 16,000 who migrated into Frederick County during this time, about 3,200, or 20% came from Montgomery County. But, 2,200 Frederick County residents migrated to Montgomery County during this time, for a net of about 1,000 people.

Yes, in-migration from Montgomery County is higher than for any other Maryland county, but it is certainly not an invasion. Interestingly, when you look at per capita inmigration, Carroll and Washington counties lead the way.

Editor’s note: Gary Bennett is a retired marketing executive. Hugh Gordon is the association executive for the Frederick County Association of Realtors and has decades of experience in the real estate world, including 24 years as a mortgage banker. They are longtime Frederick County residents and members of the Frederick County Affordable Housing Council.