Sustainable Growth Commission Considers PlanMaryland Strategies, Growth Offsets & Smart Growth Indicators

The Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission met on July 23 and received updates on State departmental strategies for implementing PlanMaryland, the State’s proposed growth offset policy for nitrogen, and new Smart Growth indicators.  All of these issues could have significant impacts on county planning and land use efforts.  The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) regularly posts all Commission handouts and documents on the Commission’s website within several days of a meeting.  For copies of the reports and materials referenced in this article, click here.

Comprehensive Plan Overview

Howard County Planning and Zoning Director Marsha McLaughlin provided an overview of the County’s comprehensive planning process.  The County is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, which operates on a 20-year outlook.  Ms. McLaughlin noted that the biggest challenge in the process is public outreach and awareness.  She also stressed the need for moving from a 6-year to a 10-year planning cycle, arguing that most counties can no longer fulfil.

Since the County is the first to update its comprehensive plan since the passage of the 2012 septic system legislation, Ms. McLaughlin also discussed the County’s proposed adoption of the legislation’s  “growth tiers.”  If a county does not adopt the growth tiers, then the county is prohibited from approving any new major subdivisions that are on septic systems.  Ms. McLaughlin announced that the County Council would likely delay adopting the tiers until this Fall in order to consider alternate proposed versions.

Growth Offset Policy Overview & WIP Workgroup Report

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Deputy Secretary for Policy and Planning David Costello provided an overview of the State’s proposed growth offset requirements.  Growth offsets are required under the State’s Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) for the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  The proposed offset system would require residential projects outside of targeted growth areas to offset 100% of a property’s nitrogen runoff post development.  Public hearings on the proposed offset requirements will last through September.  MDE will begin drafting offset regulations in August, with a final draft finished in November.  MDE plans to submit the regulations in December.

The Commission’s WIP Workgroup reviewed the proposed offset system and submitted a report on stakeholder comments, including MACo’s.  The report highlighted areas of agreement and disagreement and recommended that the Commission formally submit the comments to the interagency Growth Offset Workgroup.  The Commission agreed to submit the recommendations.

PlanMaryland Workgroup Report

The Commission’s PlanMaryland Workgroup provided an update on the draft State Implementation Strategies.  The strategies will be used by State agencies to better coordinate land use and environmental policies amongst themselves and encourage local consistency with the Plan.  The initial draft strategies were briefly reviewed by the Workgroup but were not made available to the public.  MDP did not distribute copies to the Commission members either, noting that the draft strategies document was 131 pages long.  Instead, MDP prepared a chart of key agency strategies and provided this summary to the Commission.  The proposed strategies will be submitted to the Smart Growth Subcabinet on August 22 and shortly afterwards to Governor Martin O’Malley.

Some of the Commission members expressed concern over the lack of a public process, citing a prior Commission recommendation that the Commission and interested stakeholders have a role in the drafting of the strategies.  MDP representatives stressed that what would be sent to the Subcabinet and the Governor would be a “progress report” and not a final version of the strategies.  The Commission Chair, Jon Laria, proposed that the progress report include a timeline and process for participation by the Commission, stakeholders (including MACo), and the public.  The Commission supported the Chair’s motion.  MACo’s Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp also publicly voiced support for the motion during the public comment period at the end of the meeting.

Indicators Workgroup Report

A Workgroup charged with determining whether the State and local governments should have to annually compile and report additional land use and Smart Growth indicators provided its final draft report to the Commission.  Chaired by Talbot County Planning Officer Sandy Coyman, the Workgroup’s primary recommendation is that the State should pursue any additional indicators through its own resources, including MDP and National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland.  While the Workgroup recommended that local governments assist in providing baseline information for any additional indicators, the Workgroup noted that “there is a growing lack of local resources to take on new initiatives like this alone.”  The Commission decided to table the Workgroup’s final draft report until it could have a full discussion on the issue.

Other Topics of Discussion

The Commission also discussed the role MDP and the Commission would play in the process of approving counties that sought an exemption to build major subdivision on septic systems in their Tier IV (agricultural preservation) growth areas.  The 2012 septic system legislation provides for such an exemption, provided a county’s Tier IV growth area has an actual overall yield of not more than one dwelling unit per 20 acres.  The Commission also briefly discussed its Ad Hoc Annual Forum and the Ad Hoc Annual Award Program Planning Committee.

The Commission’s next meeting will take place on September 24.

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