MACo Submits Comments on “A Better Maryland”

MACo offered both praise and constructive criticism in its comments on the draft of the new state development plan, A Better Maryland.

State law has required the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) to develop a statewide development plan for several decades. The Administration of Governor Martin O’Malley created the first plan, called PlanMaryland. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan rescinded PlanMaryland and ordered the drafting of a new plan via Executive Order in 2017. MDP developed the new plan after an extensive public outreach and listening campaign.

The draft of A Better Maryland was released on April 18 and public comments were due by May 17. The draft outlines 10 key topics. Each topic contains a number of strategies describing how the topic can be achieved. The topics include:

  1. Sustaining Environment into the Future
  2. Preserving Land
  3. Adapting and Becoming Resilient to Climate Change
  4. Improving Economic Growth and Development in Existing Communities
  5. Tackling the Economic Development Needs of the Next Century
  6. Meeting Clean and Renewable Energy Goals
  7. Addressing Maryland’s Transportation, Infrastructure, and Technology Challenges and Opportunities
  8. Creating Workforce/Affordable Housing
  9. Protecting Historic and Cultural Resources
  10. Creating Quality Places

Key Areas of Praise

MACo praised A Better Maryland in four broad areas: (1) adopting a “bottom up” approach; (2) stressing horizontal integration; (3) keeping the plan focused and simple; and (4) making the plan a collaborative effort. From MACo’s comments:

A “Bottom Up” Approach: Rather than taking a “top down” managerial approach to the state development plan, MACo is pleased that A Better Maryland is adopting a “bottom up” approach that builds on local governments’ robust comprehensive planning and zoning process. Local governments invest significant time, resources, and data analysis to draft their comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. State laws and regulations already require local government to consider numerous factors and requirements as they draft their plans and ordinances. It is appropriate that their work should form the foundation of A Better Maryland.

Horizontal Integration: One of the best potential benefits of A Better Maryland is horizontal integration – stronger coordination and communication between state agencies regarding land use and transportation decisions. Currently, local governments may receive disparate or even conflicting positions from different state agencies. The references in A Better Maryland about addressing horizontal integration are greatly appreciated.

Focused and Simple: A Better Maryland will be most effective if it remains as simple and focused as possible. One of the major failings of PlanMaryland was that it created an unnecessary and complicated “place designation process” that was layered on top of existing land use designations with minimal incentives for local government participation. In contrast, A Better Maryland uses and builds on existing planning designations and programs. The result will be more understandable and accessible for local governments, stakeholder groups, and the general public.

A Collaborative Effort: MACo is also pleased with the collaborative focus of A Better Maryland. Collaboration is extensively referenced in the executive order creating A Better Maryland and the plan’s vision statement. The public outreach process also reflected an inclusive and transparent approach that allowed for meaningful participation by local governments, stakeholders, and the general public. The outreach process included specific steps to identify local priorities and factor them into the plan’s development.

Key Areas of Concern

MACo offered several constructive criticisms of the draft plan as well. MACo’s primary concerns included: (1) acknowledgment of rural, suburban, and urban differences along with regional differences; (2) the inclusion of agriculture in the plan’s strategies for modernizing key Maryland industries; and (3) creation of a new strategy to study and review the funding of state and local infrastructure needs. From MACo’s comments:

However, in addition to regional differences, MACo also believes that it is important to acknowledge the differences in rural, urban, and suburban areas. These areas, even within the same region of the state, have very different needs and growth patterns. The recent report of the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission, Reinvest Maryland: Accelerating Infill, Redevelopment and Community Revitalization, explicitly acknowledged these differences and MACo believes A Better Maryland should do so as well. This could be accomplished through: (1) the creation of one or more new objectives; (2) expanding the language of specific topics; or (3) the creation of more general language at the start of the plan. …

Tackling the Economic Development Needs of the Next Century: MACo believes one critical component is missing from this topic and that is agriculture. Agriculture remains a top industry in rural areas of the state and is undergoing significant technological and business changes in order to remain viable in a 21st century economy. There should be an additional strategy devoted to the modernization of agriculture or agriculture should be included in several of the current strategies where applicable. …

Addressing Maryland’s Transportation, Infrastructure, and Technology Challenges and Opportunities: Given the infrastructure funding challenges facing both the State and local governments, MACo recommends creating an additional ninth strategy:

Review and study ways to increase infrastructure funding sources for state and local roads, transit, water and sewer, information technology, and other critical infrastructure to strengthen communities and enhance economic development potential.

State Visions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Schedule: 0-2 years; 2-4 years; 4-6 years

Agencies: DBM, MDOT, MDP


  • Build Capacity in Communities
  • Improve the Delivery of Programs and Services to Local Jurisdictions
  • Respect Regional Distinctions

MDP expects to release a final draft of A Better Maryland on July 1.

Useful Links

MACo Comments on A Better Maryland

A Better Maryland Draft (April 18, 2019)

A Better Maryland Webpage

Executive Order 01.01.2017.18 (Rescinds PlanMaryland and creates A Better Maryland)