In the antique shops of New Market, time itself seems to slow to a pace fit for lingering over floral china plates and sturdy pine cabinets polished by years of hard use.
But Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III, a lifelong resident who owns a shop in the self-proclaimed Antiques Capital of Maryland, prefers to measure the passage of time in traffic.
In 1972, when he was a lad in an Orioles baseball cap smiling for a camera, the Old National Pike highway pictured behind him carried a mere 1,450 vehicles a day through the middle of town.
By 2002, the same road, also known as Route 144, carried 6,300 vehicles a day. Today, 10,000 travel the highway daily. With the Frederick County government considering a plan that would boost development and transform more farmland into housing in the area, the number of vehicles traveling through the town (population: 427) could reach 16,000 a day.
Which is why Burhans supports . . . more development.
To be exact, Burhans (R) believes the Board of County Commissioners should endorse a plan that calls for about 14,000 homes over the next two decades in an area that borders Montgomery, Carroll and Howard counties.
By approving the plan, and particularly two new subdivisions north of New Market, the county would be able to tap developers for funds to build a bypass around the town, Burhans said. Then New Market might be able to slow things along its main thoroughfare and transform into a place more suitable for antique hunters.
"The way New Market views this is: It's going to happen anyway, and we have no control over it," Burhans said. "Are they crazy about the growth? No. [But] they're going to say, 'We need the bypass.' "
Supporters and opponents say the New Market regional plan, which will be the subject of a public meeting of county commissioners Thursday, represents one of the most significant policy debates on land use since the county transformed the Urbana area into a mini-city near the Montgomery border.
More than 100 people signed up to speak before a commissioners' hearing on the plan this month. Fifty-three property owners have submitted applications to rezone their land for more development.
Opponents say the New Market area has experienced enough growth, with new homes crowding out farms and open vistas as newcomers overwhelm schools, roads and other services.
Proponents say that with growth coming, the plan would cluster future homes near existing settlements. In contrast, spreading such development around the county would cost more open space, said Bryan Patchan, executive officer of the Frederick County Builders Association.
"It's an illustration of 'smart growth,' " Patchan said. "It's just not a randomly selected location in the county that's been targeted for development."
There is little doubt that the demand for housing will continue to grow. The county's population grew 10 percent between 2000 and 2004, to 217,653, according to the Census Bureau's estimate. The average price of a single-family home in the county has jumped to $515,900 from $409,900 last year, Patchan said.
Meanwhile, newcomers are picking up a larger portion of the expenses for services, he said. In July, for example, county impact fees rose to $10,487 for each new dwelling, up nearly 5 percent from $10,016.
James Upchurch, executive director of Interfaith Housing Alliance Inc., said not allowing more residential growth in such areas will only intensify a shortage of affordable housing and force more people to move farther out.
"In the interest of trying to control growth, we may be contributing, in the long haul, to hyper-sprawl," he said.
But such growth already exists in the New Market area, opponents to the plan say. Lake Linganore's approximately 3,000 homes have only two points of access to area roads. Seven of 15 schools in the area are crowded. Linganore High School, which needs to be remodeled, is at 124 percent capacity, and a new high school is not scheduled to open until 2008.
"Developers, in their never-ending quest to bulldoze and pave over Frederick County from the mouth of the Monocacy River to the Mason-Dixon line, now have New Market under siege," said John L. "Lennie" Thompson Jr. (R), president of the county commissioners. "Unless there's vast public outrage, all this stuff is going to be approved. That's what my crystal ball says."
James Jamieson, a member of the Friends of Frederick County, said county planners have underestimated the number of vehicles that will flood the area's roads and failed to take into account the plan's effects on air and water quality.
"You're talking about superimposing a massive city -- you're cramming it down -- on an agricultural, rural area," Jamieson said. "Our theme is that it really represents a threat to the quality of life in the entire southern part of the county."
Elle Williams, 55, executive director of HorseNet, an animal rescue group, said her organization could be squeezed out of the area as money pours in to take advantage of the development plans.
"It's frustrating. We've had to lease property farther and farther out, and if we move farther out, I'm going to have to sell my house and move," Williams said. "But money talks. I think it's a shame the state of Maryland license plate has a farm on it because it seems like they're doing everything they can to drive the farms out of it."
As part of a routine update, the county staff's 2003 draft plan called for new limits on residential housing around New Market, particularly in the Green Valley area, to reduce sprawl.
For example, the staff, mindful of dry wells during the 2001-02 drought, recommended limiting new homes built on one-acre lots using wells and septic systems, said Tim Goodfellow, principal planner in the county planning department. And they recommended rezoning 871 acres of undeveloped land for agricultural use to preserve open space.
This spring, the Frederick County Planning Commission, however, overruled its staff and endorsed a more development-friendly version. The commission voted to allow residential development on the 871 acres. It also decided to rezone an additional 553 acres, which had been considered farmland in earlier plans, for housing.
Furthermore, the commission agreed to extend south the projected area of growth from the Lake Linganore area. That would open 280 acres to growth, including an area that is downhill from established sewage pipes, which would require the construction of a costly pumping station, Goodfellow said.
The Board of County Commissioners has the final say over the proposal approved by the Planning Commission.
"There's a number of things that are outrageous in this plan," County Commissioner Jan Gardner (D) said. "This has more growth in it than Urbana. If this plan passes, they'll pay for it in crowded schools and traffic congestion. And I think it's going to become a campaign issue."
Michael L. Cady (R), vice president of the county commissioners and a member of the Planning Commission, said fears of overbuilding are exaggerated. Although the number of housing units grew enormously for about 20 years, the rate of growth has slowed since 2002, he said.
On Boyers Mill Road on Friday, a steady line of traffic -- mostly minivans -- zoomed by the rezoning sign posted on Frank Smith's farm.
"I've already sold," said Smith, 91. He said he signed a contract last year with Winchester Homes in Virginia. Asked how much the firm paid, Smith replied: "A lot." It was, he admitted, more than he had earned in a lifetime of milking cows.
Now, the property's 92 acres could become a housing development like the one that peeps over a hill above its pastures. "All the farms have gone out of business," he said. "You might as well do something else with the land."