County officials engaged in an discussion on how to incorporate environmental justice concerns into land use planning processes on August 17 at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference.
The panel “Environmental Justice and County Land Use: Finding the Win-Win Scenario” featured two members of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities who discussed a wide range of issues and challenges surrounding environmental justice and county land use: (1) Maryland Environmental Health Network Public Policy and Advocacy Manager Rebecca Rehr; and (2) Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park Vice President Dick Fairbanks.
The panelists discussed how to handle the sometimes adversarial stance taken by different stakeholders during discussions on environmental justice issues, how to incorporate environmental justice issues into areas with existing or historical land development patterns, handling the political realities posed by environmental justice, and dealing with extreme positions taken by stakeholders.
Both Rehr and Fairbanks stressed the importance of consulting with affected communities and the need for environmental justice advocates to engage with counties during the planning and zoning processes rather than simply introducing legislation at the state level. Rehr noted that the use of geographic information services (GIS) data makes it much easier for counties to identify and respond to environmental justice concerns related to specific projects.
Audience members questioned where the line was between genuine community concerns related to health versus a “not in my backyard” mentality. Fairbanks stated that the Commission was an advisory body and typically only considers cases that have provable health impacts as opposed to potential NIMBY situations.
Maryland Association of County Planning Officials President and Anne Arundel County Planning and Zoning Officer Philip Hager moderated the panel.