The Future of Smart Growth Discussed at 2018 Summer #MACoCon

Attendees to the 2018 MACo Summer Conference heard about the latest in Smart Growth and land use issues, including the new state development plan “A Better Maryland,” at the “Smart Growth Next: How Do We Grow From Here?” panel on August 17, 2018.

Maryland Special Secretary of Smart Growth Wendi Peters provided an update on “A Better Maryland.” Representatives from the Department of Planning held listening sessions in every county in the state and the Department is continuing to filter through the numerous public comments it has received. Peters said the new state plan will be focused on “a respect and support for local government.” Public feedback centered on two core principles: (1) economic development; and (2) the environment. Peters said the plan will be based around these two core principles and four key themes that also emerged from the comments: (1) housing (specifically the need for housing that is affordable for various income levels); (2) collaboration (both within Maryland and with other states); (3) regionalism (“one size does not fit all”); and (4) infrastructure (development, maintenance, and ability to address new technologies like autonomous vehicles.) Peters also stressed the importance of the state in providing technical assistance, training, and data to local governments.

National Center for Smart Growth Executive Director Gerrit Knaap offered thoughts on Smart Growth turning 20 years old and how the policy could be updated. Knaap noted that while Maryland remains at the forefront of Smart Growth, the state’s policies have fallen short of the stated goals set out in the 2011 Smart Growth Indicators Project. Knaap suggested revisiting the planning visions to address issues that he felt were missing, including: (1) resiliency/climate change; (2) renewable energy; (3) public health; (4) economic opportunity and equity; (5) human capital education and workforce development; and (6) “smart city” technologies (autonomous vehicles, high speed Internet, etc.). Turning to a “A Better Maryland,” Knaap criticized the previous and now defunct plan “PlanMaryland” as being too top down in its approach and creating another layer of planning designations. Knaap recommended the formation of a state-local advisory committee to help with the drafting of “A Better Maryland,” built from local comprehensive plans and coordinated with other state plans for transportation, climate, housing, and economic development. Knaap urged to make the plan a strategic development plan and not a land use plan.

From L to R: Wendi Peters, Delegate Stephen Lafferty, Deborah Carpenter, Gerrit Knaap

Garrett County Planning and Land Management Director Deborah Carpenter offered a county perspective on the issues. Carpenter opened by challenging a perception that people in rural areas are anti-Smart Growth because they are ignorant and obstinate. Carpenter stated that most rural residents agree on a lot of Smart Growth principles (mixed used development, walkable neighborhoods, transportation options) but have pushed back against the Smart Growth “brand” because the policy failed to recognize the diversity of the state. Carpenter offered five suggestions as Smart Growth moves forward in Maryland: (1) find a confluence between aspirational goals and actual policy implementation; (2) every aspirational goal and implementation strategy should be reviewed to make sure it works in different regions (Western Maryland, Central Maryland, Eastern Shore, etc.) and in different growth (urban, suburban, rural) environments; (3) review Smart Growth terminology like “transit” and “density” to avoid “one size fits all” definitions; (4) provide incentives to make areas where we want growth more attractive rather than trying to regulate against people living in certain areas; and (5) Smart Growth policies should acknowledge that while some areas of the state need to control sprawl, some areas have no growth or are losing population.

Maryland Delegate Stephen Lafferty moderated the panel.

Useful Links

A Better Maryland Webpage

National Center for Smart Growth