This post summarizes the status of various planning & zoning bills that MACo took a position on during the 2021 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 & 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 reservation – to balance community and business interests.
This year the Maryland General Assembly conducted a legislative session unlike any other due to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. The unique circumstances surrounding the 442nd legislative session posed a challenge, preventing some bills from moving or being heard. However, MACo was still able to effectively advocate on behalf of its members. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 resource page.
MACo opposed legislation that included vague and unnecessary restrictions on local site plan approvals for utility-scale energy generating stations. The policy change would have resulted in excess litigation and could have further eroded local influence on projects. Electric Facilities – Study and Procedures was withdrawn by sponsors in both chambers.
Floodplain Development Regulations
MACo opposed legislation that would have imposed potentially costly and unnecessary mandates on county governments relating to sea-level rise and coastal flooding. The bill would have significantly altered private development regulations in a new, expansive floodplain, and tasked counties with considerable enforcement mandates. Coast Smart Siting and Design Criteria – Private Construction or Reconstruction Projects and Enforcement did not advance out of committee in either chamber after hearings.
MACo supported legislation that would have clarified acceptable forest mitigation practices. The bill is an effort to ensure that reasonable longstanding practices related to forest mitigation banking can continue in light of a
recent Attorney General’s opinion. Natural Resources – Forest Mitigation Banks – Qualified Conservation passed both chambers after significant amendments, and will head to the Governor to be signed into law. The final bill clarifies that existing forest may be used in forest mitigation banks, sunsets the practice, renews the forest conservation technical study, and includes tree planting requirements and funding from a separate bill.
MACo advocated for amendments to this Session’s landmark climate change mitigation bill, the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021. The bill was passed with technical amendments by the Senate, but struggled in the House who attached significant amendments. As introduced, the bill would have strengthened the State’s greenhouse gas mitigation target, mandated energy efficiency requirements for commercial buildings, required new schools to be either net-zero or “solar-ready,” required tree planting, mandated certain personal property tax exemptions for community solar, and more. MACo raised objections to the “solar-ready” school construction and property tax exemption for community solar mandates.
The House reduced the greenhouse gas reduction targets from 60 percent to the Maryland Commission on Climate Change approved 50 percent, removed energy-efficient building provisions, eliminated the school construction requirements, and added in language establishing a task force on ground-mounted solar panel placement.
The bill ultimately failed on Sine Die as the House and Senate were not able to reconcile their differences.
MACo supported legislation with amendments that will require the Department of Housing and Community Development to produce a report, in consultation with local governments regarding actions to “affirmatively further fair housing.” MACo worked with the bill sponsor to provide additional state support for the local requirements and alter the timeframe for reporting.
For more on planning & zoning legislation tracked by MACo in the 2021 legislative session, click here.