Program Open Space Being Consolidated to the Department of Natural Resources

In a  move authorized by the General Assembly this past legislative session with the passage of House Bill 1025, the Department of Natural Resources will now be completely responsible for the administration of state and local Program Open Space.  The program was previously split between the Department of General Services,  the Department of Planning and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).   According to a report in today’s Maryland Reporter.com  Emily Wilson, the Acting Director of Land Planning and Acquisition at DNR is overseeing the consolidation.

Before the new law took effect, the Department of General Services acted as the real estate agent for Open Space-related land sales. Natural Resources did the “front end” work, finding land to be acquired that best suited the needs of the program. Once Natural Resources found the land that they wanted to acquire, General Services would actually purchase it.

“Now it will be a one-stop shop,” she said. “It will make it potentially less confusing for folks inquiring about the status of projects. They will know where to go.”

Natural Resources also now has responsibility for preparing the state’s overall Land Preservation, Parks and Recreation Plan, according to the new law.

Wilson said the Department of Natural Resources will be getting five employees from the Department of General Services to facilitate the change. The Attorney General’s Office will also get one of DGS’ employees. No new positions are being created.

Program Open Space will also be affected by a new law passed in the 2011 session enabling counties who have met their land acquisition guidelines, to once again use all of their Program Open Space allocation for development projects.  Rick Towle, Director of Parks and Recreation for Talbot County and Chair of the MACo Parks and Recreation affiliate, testified at the bill hearing and said that making all of the funds available for development will help counties have flexibility to better serve their residents.
“We’re trying to take what we do have available as a resource and maximize it as it is available while we wait for it (the economy) to come around.”

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