Governor Hears County Concerns at MACo PlanMaryland Forum

Governor Martin O’Malley and Secretary of Planning Richard Hall took questions and heard comments from county officials over the first draft of PlanMaryland at the MACo Summer Conference on August 19.  The Governor was joined by most of his cabinet and the Director of the Maryland Energy Administration.

After the Governor made a short presentation on PlanMaryland, he took questions and comments from a large audience of county officials.  During the exchange, the Governor acknowledged that the Plan would not be implemented until the Administration worked with the counties to fill in the gaps in the current draft, including State implementation policies and local responsibilities.  He also appeared willing to consider a time extension so that stakeholders and the public could comment on the second draft of the Plan prior to the Plan being submitted to the Governor for approval.

However, the Governor appeared less willing to add language to the Plan that would place limits on its scope and application, even though such language was included in background materials provided by the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) at the forum.

On the day prior to the forum, an MDP press release announced the release of the latest version of its Land Use/Land Cover Map, which tracks land use and development.  The Map was last updated in 2002.  The press release states that the revised Map shows that between 2002 and 2010, developed lands in Maryland increased by 8.4% (128,650 acres) while population only increased by 4.8% (259,600 persons).

“The need for a State Growth Plan is made evident by the latest analysis,” said Richard E. Hall, Maryland Secretary of Planning. “The data shows that Maryland has now developed more than 1.6 million acres, or about 27 percent of the total land area, in total. That is more than double the 654,000-acres surveyed in 1973, which constituted about 11 percent of the state’s land area. We need to address this issue to ensure the protection of our land, farms, water, air quality, our prosperity as a State and our quality of life.”

Click here for more information about and to view the Map.  An August 18 Baltimore Business Journal article provided further details on the release of the Map.  A number of news outlets reported on the MACo forum, with links and select quotations included here.

August 19 Washington Post article

The governor, however, is invoking a 37-year-old law granting the executive branch power to develop a plan without a new vote by the General Assembly.  …

“We do not want to take over local planning prerogative and local zoning prerogatives,” O’Malley told a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds of county officials at the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City.

Lawmakers from rural counties were not impressed with O’Malley’s presentation. …

“It has the effect of taking land-use decisions out of the domains of elected officials who are accountable to the people and putting them in the hands of [state] agencies who are not accountable to the people,” said Richard Rothschild, a Carroll County commissioner who implored O’Malley to extend a scheduled comment period on the plan that ends next month to a year or more.  “The vernacular in the plan does not match the vernacular in the [governor’s] presentation.”

August 19 Gazette article

Some local government leaders aren’t fond of a statewide development plan and intend to tell the governor they want to defer its adoption, in part because it usurps their local authority….They say the plan violates a decades-old policy requiring local governments to craft comprehensive plans, leaving major development and land-use decisions to counties and municipalities.  …

Doug Howard, another Republican Carroll County commissioner who is leading the deferral effort, said enacting Plan Maryland as it stands would create opportunities for the state to push other agendas on the counties.

“I think the state needs to treat the local jurisdictions the way the state would want to be treated by the federal government,” Howard said. “If the federal government was trying to impose these kinds of regulations on the state, the state would come back and say, ‘Wait a minute, we know what’s best for our state. We have our own unique aspects and resources and things like that; that’s overreaching.’”

Michael Sanderson, executive director of MACo, said the loudest opposition to the plan is coming from rural counties, but many local leaders are not pleased that the proposal would essentially override local planning goals.

Because the plan will be funneled through the O’Malley administration and not the General Assembly, Sanderson said he worries about the transparency of the plan and accountability of those involved.

“We don’t even get to see whether the things we ask for are in the plan,” he said. “It’s just, ‘We’ll read what you say, we may or may not incorporate changes, and then it’s going to be approved and done.’ There’s no vote. There’s no hearing.”

August 19 Baltimore Sun article

In a discussion with local leaders at a Maryland Association of Counties conference, the Democratic governor sought to sell his new program, which has been in the works for three years. He said it would protect farms and woodlands, and would designate targeted growth areas — saving the state billions by concentrating development in areas already served by roads, sewers and other infrastructure. Localities that don’t comply could lose crucial school construction, road and wastewater funding.

“This is not a straitjacket,” O’Malley told reporters. “This is not a law that prohibits counties from making stupid decisions. But we’re not going to subsidize it anymore.”  …

Even some O’Malley allies say they’re uncomfortable with the state forcing oversight on local decisions. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he was taken aback when he saw a draft of the plan that didn’t include a redevelopment project in downtown Columbia — something he said state officials described as an oversight.

“To force us to talk to each other, to compare notes, is a vehicle that is very helpful,” said Ulman, a Democrat and potential candidate for governor in 2014. “But it’s that fear of the state bureaucracy saying, ‘That doesn’t fit,’ about a project that works in our communities.”  …

“I think the existing state law makes it very clear that zoning changes should conform to a zoning development plan,” said [Anne Arundel County Executive John] Leopold, a Republican. “I would not encourage further intrusion into our local zoning prerogative, other than to adhere to our general development plan.”

In Baltimore County, planners believe they already have a system in place that will work with the state’s goals.

Andrea Van Arsdale, director of the county Department of Planning, said the initiative would likely have little effect on the county, a local government the governor praised in his remarks.

August 20 article

State officials including Gov. Martin O’Malley say the unified development policy is needed to focus growth in specific areas while protecting farmland and open space from sprawl.

But leaders of the state’s 23 counties attending the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City say Plan Maryland is another attempt by the state to diminish local land use authority.

“This is really what we do,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who is also president of the association of counties. “We do local land decisions.”  …

Ulman told reporters after a more than one-hour presentation by O’Malley that many counties are concerned about losing control of zoning and development decisions.  …

O’Malley repeatedly told county leaders Friday that the intent was not to cross that line even though he believed their authority ultimately came from the state itself.

“There would be no counties without the state giving permission to those counties to exist,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley told county leaders he is wary of placing specific language in the plan that could limit the state’s efforts to control sprawl.

“I’m not willing to put in language that says, ‘This far shall the state go and no further,'” he said.

August 21 article

When the first draft was released in April, planning departments all over the state struggled to make sense of it. It isn’t that the proposed codes were difficult to understand but rather that between staff cuts and workload, county planning offices have been swamped. A cursory glance was all that many of them needed to write the plan off as unacceptable.

As O’Malley indicated in his remarks, and even opponents of the plan mentioned, having a plan to accommodate this growth is the only way for municipalities, counties and the state to successfully navigate projected growth.  …

The problem is that counties don’t want to be locked into the state’s plan for the future. State officials across the board maintain that nothing is going to be forced on the counties. This is only true in the most technical sense of the word.  …

Counties’ overriding concern is that many have recently- or nearly-completed comprehensive plans. They fear their work and investment might come to naught. But that isn’t true according to MDP’s Andrew Ratner.  …

“We heard loud and clear that one size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “That said — sprawl is the same.”

Corey Pack, a member of the Talbot County Council, was clear that his Eastern Shore county didn’t disagree in principle with the plan but had serious reservations about the implementation schedule. It allows for 30 days of comment in September before the plan is finalized and sent to the governor’s desk.

Talbot County’s reservations over the project highlight how complicated an issue accepting Plan Maryland is for rural counties.

The deadline for submitting public comments on the first draft of PlanMaryland is September 1.  MACo intends to file its comment on PlanMaryland next week.

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