Sustainable Growth Commission Nearing Completion On Smart Growth Indicators

At its May 11 meeting, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission reviewed a series of draft Smart Growth Objectives and Indicators that have been created by the Commission’s Concentrating Growth Workgroup since the beginning of 2015.  The Workgroup’s proposal caps a nearly 5 year effort to create a fair and credible set of measurements for Smart Growth and sustainability.  Once finalized, the objectives and indicators will be available review online at the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) website.

The objectives and indicators are broken down into five categories: (1) Development; (2) Agricultural and Environmental Resources; (3) Socioeconomic Equality; (4) Sustainable Transportation/Land Use; and (5) Economic Development.

Examples of proposed objectives from each category include:

  • Accommodate the vast majority of development in Priority Funding Areas (PFAs) and minimize development pressure on resource and environmentally sensitive lands [Development]
  • Outside PFAs/inside target conservation areas, residential fragmentation of resource lands and vulnerability to and threat of additional subdivision and development are minimized by local land use plans, zoning and other tools [Agricultural and Environmental Resources]
  • Populations of poverty and high risk are not geographically concentrated and isolated [Socio-Economic Equity]
  • Transportation, growth and redevelopment are planned and implemented in concert to: (1) enhance accessibility to destinations and efficient flow of goods and services within and between PFAs; (2) increase travel by alternatives to single occupancy vehicles such as walking, biking, transit, and carpooling, and; (3) reduce travel times, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources [Transportation/Land Use]
  • Physical assets (infrastructure) in PFAs have potential to support new business and employers [Economic Development]

Indicators are broken down statewide, by region (Capital Region, Baltimore Region, Upper Eastern Shore, Lower Eastern Shore,  Western Maryland, and Southern Maryland) and by individual county.  Some indicators measure a single piece of data while others are composites that are derived from blending several pieces of data. Not all objectives have indicators at this time.

Examples of indicators from each category include:

  • Accommodate development in PFAs/Minimize impacts to resources and lands (a composite of the percent of improved single family residential and commercial/institutional parcels and acres inside PFAs) [Development]
  • Land use stability (a composite of fragmentation of resource lands by residential development, vulnerability of resources lands to additional development under current local zoning, and threat to resource lands from additional development based on recent market demand) [Agricultural and Environmental Resources]
  • Concentrations of vulnerable populations [Socio-economic Equity]
  • Transportation/Land Use objective (a composite of transit-based job accessibility from PFAs in 45 minutes, percent of residential and employment populations within 1/2 of a rail station, percent of PFA jobs held by residents, and percent of commute trips by non-single occupancy vehicle modes) [Transportation/Land Use]
  • Percent change in number of jobs in PFAs [Economic Development]

Prince George’s County Planning Division Chief Derick Berlage and Workgroup Chair presented the proposal along with MDP staff.  Commission Chair Jon Laria stressed that the objectives and indicators are meant to serve as measurement points for Smart Growth and sustainability but are not intended to act as grades or criticisms of specific counties or regions.  He also noted that the objectives and indicators needed to be accompanied by a discussion of regional differences and that they were not meant to foster “one size fits all” policies.

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel and Sustainable Growth Commissioner Les Knapp praised the efforts of both the Workgroup and MDP staff but also indicated that he could not support the proposed objectives and indicators unless his previously submitted concerns were addressed.  Knapp’s concerns included: (1) modifications to several of the objectives; (2) greater discussion and acknowledgement of regional differences; (3) clearer notations of limitations and caveats of specific indicators; (4) removal of language that “editorialized” or undermined the neutrality of the indicators data; and (5) greater consistency in both presentation style and formatting.  Knapp and Garrett County Planning and Land Management Director Deborah Carpenter both questioned the basis of the land use stability indicator.

Laria, Berlage, and MDP staff indicated that the concerns raised by MACo could be addressed. Other commissioners raised minor concerns but offered no significant opposition.  The Commission expects to rewrite the draft objectives and indicators over the next several weeks and adopt a final product shortly thereafter.

If you have questions or concerns about the proposed objectives and indicators, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or