Study Supports Increased State Planning Authority Over Incentives-Based Approach

A June 3 article in The Atlantic Cities discusses whether Maryland’s Smart Growth incentives are sufficient or whether the State should move to a more centralized planning system.    The article cites a soon-to-be-published study (click here for the abstract) that argues that an incentive-based approach is insufficient.  In reaching its conclusions, the study compared and evaluated the Smart Growth efforts of Maryland and Virginia counties around the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Good as [Maryland’s Smart Growth efforts have] been, it might not be enough. A new study of the Washington, D.C., metro area, set for publication in Urban Studies, found that Maryland counties often spurn the state’s smart growth incentives, instead pursuing their own preferred type of development. Despite the contentious nature of legal planning mandates, in many cases they would be more effective.

“Because they are incentives, then it’s up to the local government to adopt them or not,” says planner and report author Amal K. Ali of Salisbury University. “This is the tricky thing about the incentive approach.”

The study found that Maryland counties lost less farmland than Virginia counties did but fared less well on other measures of sprawl, such as density.

Simply put, when it comes to development, local desires often render state smart growth incentives insufficient, Ali concluded in her paper.

The study supported the State’s recent enactment of PlanMaryland and other land use measures but stressed that public education and “buy-in” are also critical components.

Despite the mixed results, Ali believes that Maryland “is moving in the right direction.” PlanMaryland creates a true comprehensive plan — one compiled with enormous local feedback — that’s much stronger in character and concept than the state’s earlier smart growth initiatives. Additionally, the state has implemented complementary mandates, such as one requiring localities to link growth with water resources, which limits their ability to expand into remote areas.

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