State Growth Commission Reviews Agency and County Planning

On September 23, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission convened its latest meeting, to update and refresh on numerous issues within its charge. The meeting was hosted at the Cecil County Council Chambers in Elkton, and all five County Council members joined County Executive Tari Moore as observers and participants in the full afternoon’s meeting agenda.

Cecil County Executive Moore opened the meeting with a welcome, and with general thoughts reinforcing the county desire to retain local decision-making in land use and planning issues. Elkton Mayor Joe Fisona also offered initial thoughts on transportation and planning issues facing that town.

Commission Chair Jon Laria began the day by welcoming Mary Ann Lisanti to the role of Commission Vice Chair. Lisanti, a Harford County Council Member, has served on the Commission since its inception, as one of the county government representatives recommended by MACo.

Gerrit Knaap, Executive Director of the Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, offered an update on its SEED initiative, evaluating targeting growth and development strategies and how they mesh with continuing economic and demographic trends.

Don Halligan, Director of The Maryland Department of Transportation’s Office of Planning and Capital Programming, presented a summary of the recently released draft Maryland Transportation Plan, a long-term document prepared to forecast infrastructure and planning. (See previous Conduit Street coverage on the “2035 Plan”). The plan is currently open for stakeholder comment, with a final plan expected for approval by January.

David Costello, Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, briefed the Commission on the continuing work on “Accounting for Growth.” He noted the workgroup of stakeholders (including county representatives) and forecasted that regulations should be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. (See previous Conduit Street coverage) He indicated that the Department was “likely to accept” the issues on which the stakeholder group had reached consensus recommendations, and then noted the continuing attention to the definition of a baseline for development offsets.

Council Members offed questions and views on the costs and burdens arising from the Accounting for Growth program, along with the entire Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load initiative. Members cited competitive concerns with neighboring states, and raised the presence of the Conowingo Dam as a major component of the Bay’s pollution loading.

The Commission also reviewed concerns raised with the proposed comprehensive plan in Charles County. Rich Hall, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning, (MDP) gave an overview of concerns raised by MDP and other state agencies. Commission Chair Laria acknowledged the Commission is not a formal approval or review body, but then cited the body’s duty to “defend the twelve visions” set forth in state law to be incorporated in each local comprehensive plan. No representatives from Charles County government nor its Planning Commission (who have recommended the draft plan to the County Commissioners) were scheduled to participate in the meeting or presentation.

Laria followed, “…this Commission is not I the habit of taking sides in disputes (like this)… We don’t have the legal authority to review comp plans,” responding to input and comments from multiple Commission members. “The [Charles County] Commissioners are meeting tomorrow with the [Charles County] Planning Commission,” he said, and continued, “I am not prepared to just sit by and let something bad happen… we want to make sure that the process…is deliberate, and I’d be more than happy to invite Charles County to meet with the Commission.”

The Commission, following fairly pointed discussion, agreed that an invitation to the County to provide its own perspective would be a suitable subsequent step. Commission Chair Laria indicated that a letter, without entailing criticism, would be sent to the County to seek further dialog.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties