2019 End of Session Wrap-Up: Planning & Zoning

This post summarizes the status of various planning and zoning bills that MACo took a position on during the 2019 Regular Session.

Planning and zoning is an integral function of county governments, and an area that spurs a high level of interaction with residents and business owners. In its planning and zoning advocacy, MACo seeks to protect the ability of local governments – those closest to the people and with the most insight into local needs for growth and preservation – to balance community and business interests.

Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database.

Comprehensive Plans – Housing Element

MACo opposed legislation requiring local governments to include a housing element in their comprehensive plans. In the original legislation, the housing element would have had to include a plan to address: (1) the need for affordable housing within the local jurisdiction, including low- and moderate-income housing; and (2) if applicable, the impacts of gentrification.bills, arguing that: (1) the bills’ requirements were too specific for inclusion in the “big picture” comprehensive plan; and (2) there were significant costs and challenges for updating current plans. Following MACo’s expression of concerns, the legislation was amended to require local comprehensive plans to include a housing element that merely addresses the need for affordable housing, including workforce housing and low-income housing (both of which are defined terms.) The element may include goals, objectives, policies, plans, and standards. The amended legislation only applies prospectively and does not affect any comprehensive or general plan adopted before June 1, 2020. The General Assembly passed the legislation with amendments addressing MACo’s concerns and it will proceed to the Governor for his signature.

Bill Information | MACo Coverage

Solar Energy in Maryland

Consistent with MACo’s established position on solar facilities and siting, MACo supported with amendments legislation to establish a Commission on the Development of a Blueprint for Solar Energy in Maryland. The Commission’s purpose would be to identify areas where community or utility-scale solar projects should be encouraged and areas where such projects should be restricted or discouraged. MACo’s amendments will: (1) acknowledge the role of local zoning and land use planning in the siting of community and utility scale solutility-scale and (2) allow MACo to select a county representative as opposed to General Assembly leadership. Protecting Natural Resources and Preserving Productive Farms — Commission on the Development of a Blueprint for Solar Energy in Maryland passed the Senate with amendments addressing MACo’s concerns, but the House took no action on the bill and it did not advance. 

Bill Information | MACo Coverage

Maryland Smart Growth Investment Fund

MACo supported legislation that would have required the Department of Commerce to establish a public/private Smart Growth Investment Fund based the recommendations of the December 2013 Report of the Maryland Smart Growth Investment Fund Workgroup. The Report recommended the creation of a public-private investment fund to support Smart Growth projects in desirable areas, such as Sustainable Communities or areas designated for transit-oriented development. The bill also called for a one-time State investment of $7 million but only if the total committed capital for the Fund was at least $25 million. MACo supported the bills as providing another “tool in the toolbox” to encourage private investment in areas targeted for redevelopment, infill, and revitalization. The Fund could provide an innovative development tool that complements the State’s existing array of grant, loan, and tax credit programs.

The House Environment and Transportation Committee heard Maryland Smart Growth Investment Fund but took no further action on the bill. The Senate passed Maryland Smart Growth Investment Fund with amendments changing the focus of the Fund to investments within Priority Funding Areas and authorizing the Board of Public Works to issue $7 million in bonds instead of mandating an appropriation in the State budget. The House Environment and Transportation Committee heard the Senate amended bill, but took no further action, so neither bill advanced this Session.

Bill Information | MACo Coverage

Other Bills of Interest

The following bills may be of interest to counties even though MACo did not take a formal position on them. In some cases, the bills were handled through one of MACo’s affiliate organizations.

A bill was introduced to extend the Community Solar Energy Generating Systems Pilot Program termination date from 3 to 7 years, with a minimum termination date of December 31, 2024. This legislation also removed the maximum subscriber cap under the Program and required the generating capacity cap and annual capacity limits under the Program be increased over the duration of the Program. Electricity – Community Solar Energy Generating Systems Pilot Program – Extension was passed by the General Assembly.

Bill Information

Legislation that would have prohibited a person from clear cutting an area equal to or larger than one-half acre to make room for a commercial solar photovoltaic system. The House Economic Matters Committee heard Construction of Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Systems – Clear-Cutting – Prohibition, but the Committee took no further action on the bill.

Bill Information

A bill was introduced to expand the applicability of a certain deposit collected by the Public Service Commission to all solar generating stations that produce 2 megawatts or more. The bill also reduced the time for a solar project to begin construction or forfeit the deposit from 18 months to 1 year. The Senate Finance Committee heard Public Utilities – Solar Photovoltaic Systems, but the Committee took no further action on the bill.

Bill Information

Legislation would have prohibited the Public Service Commission from taking final action on an application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the construction of a solar or wind generating system unless each county or municipal corporation where the generating system will be located has completed a review of the proposed land use and provided the Commission with a written statement that the proposed generating station conforms with all applicable county or municipal zoning and land use requirements. Public Utilities – Wind and Solar Generating Stations – Local Zoning and Land Use was given an Unfavorable Report by the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Bill Information

A bill was introduced that would have authorized a county to allow the construction of residential major subdivisions on septic systems, community systems, or shared systems in Tier III or Tier IV areas if the county met specified land protection goals within that Tier. The House Environment and Transportation Committee gave Sewerage Systems – Residential Major Subdivisions in Tier III and Tier IV Areas an Unfavorable Report.

Bill Information

Legislation would have required a property owner seeking a special exception to construct or operate a landfill or rubble landfill in an area zoned for residential use to prepare an environmental justice analysis at the expense of the property owner. The Senate passed Zoning – Special Exceptions – Construction or Operation of Landfills but the House Environment and Transportation Committee gave the bill an Unfavorable report.

Bill Information

Legislation addressed how governmental units (including local governments) should submit their adopted land use plans and plan amendments or revisions to the Maryland Department of Planning’s (MDP’s) central depository. The General Assembly passed Department of Planning – Central Depository with amendments. As amended, the bill clarified that when governmental unit submits their adopted land use plans and plan amendments or revisions to MDP, they must submit their most current versions. The bill also clarified that MDP will only post a copy of a governmental unit’s land use plans and plan amendments or revisions to its website if they were submitted to MDP in an electronic format.

Bill Information

Legislation made several changes to the review and approval process of Priority Preservation Areas (PPAs), including:

  1. Clarifying that the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and an agricultural preservation advisory board shall approve or disapprove a recertification of a county’s agricultural preservation programs and PPAs (currently they can approve or disapprove a certification);
  2. Requiring a county that applies for certification or recertification to include a PPA element in their comp plan (currently the element is optional);
  3. Requiring MDP and the Foundation to review any update to a county’s comprehensive plan or any other change that may affect a PPA; and
  4. Altering the time limit where a county must use funds deposited into the county’s ag preservation account or remit those funds back to the Foundation from 3 years to the time specified in 13-306 of the Tax – Property Article, which is 6 years (this is a clarifying and conforming provision).

The General Assembly passed Agriculture – County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs.

Bill Information

Legislation authorized certain land preservation agencies to record notice of certain conservation easements or restrictions in the land use records. The General Assembly passed Real Property – Conservation Easements, Covenants, Restrictions, and Conditions – Recording Notice with amendments. As amended, the bill authorizes the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland Environmental Trust, Department of Natural Resources, a county, or a land trust defined under § 3-2A-01 of the Natural Resources Article, to record the notice of a conservation easement, covenant, restriction or condition in the land records of the county in which the property is located.

 Bill Information

Legislation repealed the use of “target investment zones” by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority for the purposes of making acquisition and development grants. OUTCOME: The General Assembly passed Maryland Heritage Areas Authority – Acquisition or Development Grants – Repeal of Target Investment Zones with technical amendments that did not alter the substance of the bill.

 Bill Information

For more on planning and zoning legislation tracked by MACo in the 2019 legislative session, click here.

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