MACo Urges Caution on Changing Program Open Space Land Acquisition Formula

MACo representatives testified before the Joint Subcommittee on Program Open Space and Agricultural Land Preservation on November 8, 2017, urging caution against legislatively changing the land acquisition formula used in the local Program Open Space (POS) program. SB 116 of 2017 required the Joint Subcommittee to review the local POS land acquisition standard of 30 acres per 1,000 population and report back to the House and Senate environment committees on whether the standard should be adjusted “to encourage the additional acquisition of land.” The Joint Committee also heard from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding the land acquisition standard.

DNR Deputy Secretary Joanne Throwe described how DNR had adopted an alternative methodology to the 30 acres per 1,000 goal and how counties were implementing this methodology as part of their current round of Local Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan (LPPRP). From DNR’s written testimony to the Joint Subcommittee:

POS Local is a reimbursable grant program administered by DNR’s Land Acquisition and Planning Unit. To be eligible for funding, counties must submit a [LPPRP] every five  years. LPPRPs are an important resource by which county governments and the City of Baltimore evaluate key issues, trends and plans for managing and enhancing the systems of preserved public lands, parks and recreation facilities in their jurisdictions. …

Historically in Maryland, a county’s land acquisition goal in the LPPRP was determined based only on a single state default metric of 30 acres of open space per 1,000 residents (counties could use another standard with the approval of [the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP)] and DNR). This metric was used to determine whether a County had met the land acquisition goal, which enables them to use a greater percentage of their annual funding on recreational development projects. …

Based on input from DNR, MDP, and the local jurisdictions, it was determined that a much more tangible analytical methodology capable of considering multiple factors (user demand, population density, and land and facility distribution) was a better approach [for the 2017 LPPRPs]. By analyzing and mapping a county’s parks and recreation inventory of existing land and facilities in relation to population density and taking into consideration the known needs and demands of users (as determined via surveys, participation rate figures, public input, etc.) a more accurate determination of deficiencies in service can be made and better plans formulated to address them, versus the past reliance on the 30-acres-per=1,000 residents, single acres/population metric.

Throwe maintained that because many counties were still completing their LPPRPs under the new methodology, it was premature for the Joint Subcommittee to recommend any changes to the land acquisition formula.

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp and Howard County Parks and Recreation Director John Byrd essentially concurred with DNR’s position. Knapp and Byrd stated that local POS was composed of two equally valid components: (1) land acquisition; and (2) facilities development and maintenance. Both MACo and county parks and recreation directors have viewed the 30 acres per 1,000 residents standard as a somewhat arbitrary “one-size-fits-all” approach and support a different standard that provides greater county flexibility.

Knapp and Byrd cautioned the Joint Subcommittee against making a recommendation for the 2018 Session (SB 116 allows them to submit a recommendation by October 31 of 2018) in light of the ongoing LPPRP process with the new methodology. Knapp indicated that once the full ramifications of the new methodology could be measured, MACo’s position could change.