MACo Meets With Hogan MDE Transition Team

December 19, 2014

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson and Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp joined with MML representatives at a December 16 meeting with Governor-elect Larry Hogan’s transition team for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).  Both the MACo and MML representatives offered their thoughts about MDE and key environmental and land use concerns.

The Chairman of the transition group, former MDE Assistant Secretary Steve Pattison, stressed the importance of local governments to MDE’s function – both as regulated entities, but also as agents of enforcement (as many MDE-delegated functions, and other statutory mandates, are actually carried out by county agencies).

Sanderson and Knapp both praised MACo’s generally positive relationship with MDE Secretary Robert Summers and staff, noting that MACo’s relationship with MDE has been strained in the past.  They also highlighted five broad environmental challenges facing the counties that incoming MDE leadership should address: (1) regulatory overload; (2) mandated oversight and enforcement; (3) treating counties as partners and not as “enemies”; (4) providing flexible rather than “one size fits all” approaches; and (5) breaking down departmental silos and having better communication across state agencies.

Planning Directors’ Roundtable Provides Issue Updates & Secretary Hall Reminiscences

December 11, 2014

rich hall

At the December 11 meeting of the Maryland Planning Directors’ Roundtable, Maryland Secretary of Planning Richard Hall reminisced about key policies that he has helped enact during his 8-year term as head of the Maryland Department of Planning.  He cited the state’s development plan, PlanMaryland, as a policy document aimed at improving communication between state agencies.  He credited the 2012 septic tier legislation (SB 236) as helping to preserve farmland and environmentally sensitive land.  Hall also expressed pride in efforts to better focus state and local spending efforts through GreenPrint, AgPrint, GrowthPrint and the recent Reinvest Maryland recommendations proposed by the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission and the consolidation of various state aid programs under the Sustainable Communities banner.  Finally, he noted the new planning commission and board of appeal education requirements that are now in place.

Hall is also responsible for revitalizing the previously defunct Roundtable and his presentation was followed by a short summary of some of the Roundtable’s key presentations and issue discussions over the last several years.

Roundtable attendees also received a briefing about the Children in Nature and Health Partnership and a recent Maryland Attorney General Opinion which concluded that the legislative bodies of non-charter counties and municipalities cannot substantively amend a comprehensive plan submitted to them by a planning commission.  In response to the Opinion, MML plans to introduce corrective legislation as one of its 2015 Legislative Priorities.

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Comp Plan Attorney General Opinion

Vertical Farming Technology Poised to Bring Agriculture & New Commercial Opportunities to Urban Areas

December 11, 2014

A December 3 Fast Company article highlighted the potential benefits that vertical farming technology could bring to urban settings, including the potential for viable (and commercially profitable) year-round agriculture in highly developed areas with little or no open space.  Vertical farming technology allows certain crops to be grown in warehouse-type facilities without sunlight or sometimes even soil.  The article highlighted several examples showing the maturation and increasing scalability of the technology, which even a few years ago was considered experimental or prototype:

In a windowless warehouse just outside of Chicago, where today’s forecast is for below-freezing temperatures, Green Sense Farms grows leafy greens and herbs all year around. They sell their bounty—protected from insects, disease and brutal winters—to grocers like Whole Foods and some local restaurants. Green Sense grows their soil-free produce (they use coconut husk instead) in indoor growing towers. Beneath 30 foot ceilings, rows and rows of produce are stacked and CO2 levels, water, lighting, and humidity are precisely controlled.

“At capacity, we’re producing about three to four million pounds a year,” said Robert Colangelo, the president and founder of Green Sense Farms. With their current footprint—30,000 square feet—Green Sense can grow fresh produce that can be distributed within 100 miles to 20 million people.

Their success is another sign that the vertical urban farming movement is beginning to scale. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT’s Media Lab is developing an open source version, known as City Farm. In Japan, just 60 miles from where the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred, inside of a former silicon chip manufacturing facility, Fujitsu grows 3000 heads of lettuce a day that sell for three times the price of other lettuce.

The article noted the benefits of vertical farming which include: (1) year-round crop production; (2) independence from weather and climate; (3) minimal issues with crop-destroying animals, fungus, or disease; and (4) food produced in relatively sterile environments.

Growers say they want to grow nutritious food in a new, sustainable way, and supplement field farms and greenhouses. They believe the technique can revolutionize farming in crowded urban metropolises, during cold winters, and in impoverished parts of the world. And, the growers add, their produce is already in demand because it’s local, available year around, and frankly, pristine.

“In the field—there’s pests, there’s animals, there’s fungus, and there’s weather—the sun may shine, it may not,” said Colangelo. “We see this as the future of farming.”

The article also highlighted some potential drawbacks to the technology, including: (1) the need for precise computer controlled management of the facility; (2) water and power consumption (the facilities require LED lighting); (3) limited suitability for certain popular food crops, such as corn, tomatoes, or grains; and (4) questions about the taste and nutrition value of vertical farm produce.

“I worry about the energy cost of inputs—light, water, nutrients,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of Food Politics and What to Eat. “I also worry about the nutrients in soil that aren’t reproduced in artificial systems. And then, there’s the taste issue. Soil influences taste.”  …

“The concern is there,” said Gus van der Feltz, the global director of city farming for multinational lighting and tech company Philips. “If you don’t use sun or soil what do you lose? Providing the right kind of environment and nutrients to the plant is important and we are working on that.”


LEAD Maryland Symposium Explored The Changing Face of Maryland Agriculture

December 5, 2014

Approximately 300 people, including representatives from both urban and rural counties, attended LEAD Maryland’s second symposium which was titled “Image of Agriculture – Ag Evolution, Food Revolution.”  The symposium was created by the LEAD Maryland’s Class VIII and held on December 3.

The LEAD Maryland program identifies and develops leadership to serve the agricultural, natural resource, and rural communities of the state.  The educational program takes 2 years to complete and class size is limited to 25 persons.  Class members are required to attend educational sessions throughout Maryland and participate in one foreign trip.  Class IX will begin in 2015.

The symposium focused on how agriculture is changing to remain an important industry in Maryland and better serve the needs of its citizens.  The symposium included sessions on food and nutrition labeling, buying and sourcing local foods, genetically modified food, and how agricultural technologies are reducing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

Keynote speakers speakers included United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael T. Scuse and Chef Bryan Voltaggio.  Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Earl F. “Buddy” Hance provided welcoming remarks.

MD Historical Trust Names New Hazard Mitigation Program Officer

November 26, 2014

In a November 21 email notice, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) announced that Jennifer Sparenberg will be taking over as MHT’s new Hazard Mitigation Program Officer.  From the email notice:

This week, the Maryland Historical Trust welcomed Jennifer Sparenberg, a Certified Floodplain Manager and a hazard mitigation planner, as MHT’s new Hazard Mitigation Program Officer.  In her work in the private sector, Jen wrote and contributed to numerous hazard mitigation plans for local governments and flood mitigation publications for FEMA’s Building Science Branch.  …

Over the next two years, Jen will develop and implement MHT’s new Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Program, aimed at protecting historic places, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes from the effects of sea level rise and coastal storms.  Under the program, MHT will develop model guidance and educational materials to assist local government with hazard mitigation planning for their cultural resources.  …

As part of the new program, Jen will administer grants to help local governments plan for cultural resources threatened by coastal hazards.  Together, these activities will help protect Maryland’s heritage, achieving a more resilient future while preserving our past.

Jen can be reached at


Charles County Commissioners Approve Purchase of Development Rights Program

November 25, 2014

A November 21 article reported that the Charles County commissioners unanimously approved the creation of a local purchase of development rights (PDR) program.  Under the program, the county will buy and retire development rights from selected rural properties.  The properties must be at least 50 acres in size or contiguous to already preserved land.  From the article:

Local officials, farmers and environmentalists have pushed for years for the county to establish a PDR program, and it has been a long-standing recommendation in several county planning documents. It was also among the recommendations made by a working group tasked earlier this year with drawing the county’s septic tier maps.

The program has been largely modeled after Calvert County’s PDR program, “which is long-standing and noted as very successful,” environmental Program Manager Charles Rice said Tuesday evening prior to a public hearing on the PDR legislation.

Young To Take Seat on Frederick Planning Commission

November 24, 2014

The Frederick News Post reports that during today’s terminal meeting of the Frederick County Commissioners (the County moves to Charter government following its upcoming transition), a procedural move was approved to appoint sitting County Commission President Blaine Young to a citizen seat on the County’s Planning Commission.

From coverage in the Frederick News-Post (limited free views available):

Young has acted as a commissioners liaison to the planning commission, with his service expected to end when he leaves office Dec. 1. However, during his final meeting as commissioners president, Young suddenly resigned his post on the planning commission. Seconds later, Commissioner Paul Smith moved to reappoint Young to the commission seat he had just vacated. For his new five-year term as a planning official, Young would be serving as a citizen rather than as a county commissioner, Smith said.

Three commissioners approved the decision, with Young stepping down from the board during the vote.

Read the full News-Post article online.


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