Calvert County is launching an update of its Comprehensive Plan, which will serve as the blueprint for an array of local policy decisions, including how to manage growth and continue to provide important services to local residents.

The schedule for the update process was presented Tuesday to the Board of Commissioners. County officials expect to present a draft of the new plan at a public hearing in December. Calvert adopted the current Comprehensive Plan in 1997.

"It really sets the direction of the county -- where we want to be," Planning and Zoning Department Director Frank Jaklitsch said Tuesday.

A process for developing the plan was outlined this week. A draft version of the updated Comprehensive Plan will be prepared by the Planning Commission. When that is completed, the commission and the elected Board of Commissioners will meet jointly to discuss it, possibly by September.

In October, copies of the plan will be mailed to county residents and businesses in advance of a forum at which public comment will be sought. The formal public hearing on the draft will be held two months later.

In a presentation Tuesday to the county commissioners, Jaklitsch outlined the goals in the county's most recent Comprehensive Plan and the steps the county has taken to meet them. A central theme in the plan concerned the county's efforts to take control of growth and development while maintaining adequate public services in what was the state's fastest-growing county during the 1990s.

Jaklitsch told the commissioners that their predecessors had responded to the challenge with aggressive measures to control growth, including zoning changes, land preservation and tougher regulations limiting subdivision development in areas of the county where schools are full.

At the same time, the county has "continued to improve town centers," Jaklitsch said, to make them targets for more of the county's development. Just recently, the commissioners approved extensions of county water and sewer service to the Lusby town center.

The development of Lusby is linked to Calvert's commitment to the town center concept, which was introduced in the county's 1983 Comprehensive Plan, according to officials. The strategy, prompted by concern about sprawling strip commercial development, was designed largely to promote growth in designated areas and discourage it elsewhere.

Master plans have been adopted in the county's eight town centers: Dunkirk, Huntingtown, Lusby, Owings, Prince Frederick, Solomons, St. Leonard and the "Twin Beaches" -- the combined communities of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach. Those two towns , the county's only incorporated municipalities, also have their own master plans.

The county has committed itself to building enough public school facilities to accommodate a population of school-age children that grew faster than that in any other jurisdiction in the state during the past decade. According to the Census Bureau, nearly one-third of residents who arrived in the 1990s were age 19 or younger. Calvert's official overall population in 2000 was 74,563, up 45.1 percent from 1990.

Calvert added nine schools during the past decade and is building a fourth high school. The county also sought to "ensure that a wide selection of public recreational facilities and programs are provided to meet the interest and needs of all ages, incomes and abilities," according to the presentation.

Last year, Calvert officials initiated a long-range effort to expand the county's recreational facilities to include new ballfields and to make an indoor swimming pool available to residents. The financial backing of the past Board of Commissioners also helped the Maryland Economic Development Corp. purchase the Chesapeake Hills Golf Course.

That move was closely tied to a key part of the county's economic development effort to bring high-tech companies to Calvert. The golf course is across the street from the proposed Patuxent Business Park on 92 acres near Route 4 and Cove Point Road (Route 497). The county has pledged money and services to the development.