Cecil County Announces New Planning and Land Use Department

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cecil Guardian article (2017-03-28) reported that Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy announced the formation of a new planning department, called the Department of Land Use and Development Services. The new department will subsume duties that currently reside within three other county departments. From the article:

In accordance with this reorganization and consolidation, services provided by Planning & Zoning, Permits & Inspections and the plans review function of the Department of Public Works will all be combined as divisions within the new Department of Land Use and Development Services.

 Dr. McCarthy states, “This reorganization will result in greater efficiency with the plans review and permitting processes by bringing all employees that administer this function together in one place.”
The article stated that the new department should be operational around May 1, 2017.

MACo Advocates for Revenue Equity for State Forests & Parks

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in support of Senate Bill 273, which addresses a longstanding funding shortfall to counties for their acreage of State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas.

MACo’s testimony states,

As amended, the bill would establish a Revenue Equity Program which would provide counties with at least 40,000 acres of State forests, State parks and wildlife management areas with State funding, allocated through an analog to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, in fairly wide use across Maryland. Beginning in Fiscal 2019, the State would pay the qualifying counties the amount they would receive in property taxes if the land were not government-owned. Five counties currently have at least 40,000 acres of applicable land and qualify for the benefits provided by the bill: Allegany, Dorchester, Garrett, Somerset, and Worcester.

SB 273 will serve as an appropriate incentive to counties to preserve their State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas. As State lands or designated wildlife areas, these properties are exempt from the local property tax, which is the counties’ top revenue source. These State lands comprise as much as 20% of the total land mass in some counties. Property revenues fund a large portion of county expenditures from which these lands benefit, including law enforcement, emergency management services, stormwater infrastructure, and roadways. Providing services to these areas without revenues for this specific purpose draws funds away from other parts of the county budget.

The following county members joined Zektick to testify in favor of this bill:

  • Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine
  • Somerset County Commissioner Charlie Fisher
  • Executive Assistant to the Dorchester County Manager, Rebecca White

After a detailed introduction from bill sponsors Senators George Edwards and James Mathias, Governor Hogan’s Chief Legislative Officer and former Senator Chris Shank stressed the Governor’s support for the bill. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources also testified in support of the bill, clarifying that its passage would relieve any tension between the State and local governments concerning the purchase and development of additional State forest and park land.

Delegate Stephen Lafferty asked White about the income potential of State land primarily covered in marsh, where housing could not be developed. White and Commissioner Valentine testified that just because it could not house development did not mean that counties did not have to pay for services supporting the land. Delegate Andrew Cassilly followed up with a friendly question concerning the land value, and Delegate William Wivell drove home the point that any concerns about the value of the land would be addressed through the property assessment process.

Previous Conduit Street coverage can be found here. Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Make Your Own Maps with MDP’s Finder Online Tool

MDP logo

 

 

 

A Maryland Planning Blog article (2017-03-22) described a free mapping tool created by the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) called FINDER Online. The application allows users to analyze, map, and print a variety of data for all of Maryland’s 2.2 million parcel records. The article states FINDER Online’s toolset is easy to access but robust enough to benefit both ordinary citizens and local planning departments. From the article:

FINDER Online users can access and overlay data including parcels, recent property sales, and aerial imagery with established geographies such as Generalized Zoning, Priority Funding Areas, Census Boundaries, Land Use/Land Cover, and Floodplains. You can display other map layers with the Layer List function….FINDER Online contains links to the Department of Assessments and Taxation records, which are constantly updated. …

The user can select items from a specified map layer that meet a desired criterion using the select tool….Finally, and perhaps best of all, FINDER Online can quickly print an exportable pdf version of any user created map at the extent shown on the screen. The pdf can include a user created map title, a scale bar, a legend, and a creation date.

Useful Links

MDP Website

FINDER Online

MACo Energy Siting Initiative Passes House & Senate Committees

The Senate Finance Committee gave a favorable report on an amended version of MACo’s energy facility siting legislation (SB 931) on March 28 while the House Economic Matters Committees passed out a separate bill (HB 1350) with amendments making the bill identical to SB 931. The amendments were the result of a consensus between MACo and numerous other stakeholders, including the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Maryland Municipal League, utility scale solar developers, utilities, agricultural and land conservation groups, and environmental groups. Addressing energy siting concerns was a 2017 MACo Legislative Initiative.

As amended, the bills would:

  1. require the PSC, as part of its review of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) for an energy generating station to give due consideration to: (i) the consistency of the application with the comprehensive plan and zoning of each county or municipal corporation in which any portion of the generation station is proposed to be located; and (ii) the efforts by affected parties to resolve any issues presented by such a county or municipal corporation
  2. require the PSC to provide notice of any CPCN application to the executive branch of any affected local government in addition to the local governing body, include a copy of the application to the affected local governments with the notice, and offer to provide a copy of the application to state legislators representing the affected local governments

In a separate letter, MACo also reiterated 4 other commitments that were made outside of the bill language:

  1. The Power Plant Research Program will conduct an informal study on improving notice and communication between the State, local governments, and energy developers.
  2. MACo, utility scale solar developers, and other interested stakeholders will work together to develop proposed best practices for developers operating in Maryland.
  3. Senate Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton will hold interim discussions with interested stakeholders on setting protections regarding energy development on lands subject to a State land preservation or conservation easement or in a Rural Legacy Area.
  4. MACo will commit to not introduce legislation directly affecting the PSC’s CPCN process for the next several years unless there is a significant change in the energy development landscape or the provisions of SB 931 are not working as intended.

Useful Links

Unofficial Reprint of SB 931 of 2017

Commitment Letter for SB 931

DNR, U.S. Navy Partner with St. Mary’s County to Develop New Waterfront Park

The Board of Public Works (BPW) recently unanimously approved a program open space acquisition on 163 acres in St. Mary’s County to provide for the development of both active and passive recreational opportunities, and important water access to the Patuxent River.

According to DNR’s press release,

The property, known as the Snow Hill Farm, will be owned and managed by St. Mary’s County.

“This partnership among local, state and national entities translates to an extraordinary opportunity to help develop a new waterfront park in Southern Maryland,” Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “The property will provide expansive and extensive shoreline and beach areas, a protected cove, a motorized boat launch and plenty of open space for more passive recreational pursuits. It will be ideal for canoeing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, picnicking and more.”

The Program Open Space acquisition was leveraged with funding from the Department of Natural Resources, St. Mary’s County and the U.S. Navy. The $1.5 million acquisition is being shared among the partners with the Navy contributing $383,553 through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program in exchange for a conservation easement on the property.

Program Open Space is a nationally-recognized program that symbolizes Maryland’s long term commitment to conserving the state’s natural resources while providing exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities for citizens and visitors alike. Since 1969, the program has provided funding for acquisition of 378,731 acres for open space.

Cecil County Executive McCarthy Streamlines Land Use and Development Services

Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy recently announced that services delivered in three different departments will be combined and housed under one new department, to be called the Department of Land Use and Development Services.

According to the county press release,

In accordance with this reorganization and consolidation, services provided by Planning & Zoning, Permits & Inspections and the plans review function of the Department of Public Works will all be combined as divisions within the new Department of Land Use and Development Services.

Dr. McCarthy states, “This reorganization will result in greater efficiency with the plans review and permitting processes by bringing all employees that administer this function together in one place.”

Currently, depending upon the type and approval phase of a construction project, constituents must conduct business in three different county offices.  Feedback provided by developers and construction companies strongly suggest that this consolidation and reorganization will streamline and simplify the development process, and be generally well received.

There are efficiencies realized through this new organization resulting in a reduction of one current position and the reclassification of some existing positions.  It is expected that further efficiencies resulting in increased savings will occur as this new organization plan is evaluated.  It is expected that the Department of Land Use and Developmental Services will be fully operational on or about May 1, 2017.

CBF Cites Value of Trees in Forest Conservation Act Op-Ed

In a Washington Post op-ed (2017-03-21), Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Alison Prost argues for legislation (HB 599 / SB 365) that would create significant new replanting and fee in lieu requirements under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act (FCA). MACo and the Maryland Municipal League are opposed to the bill, noting that Maryland’s total forest and tree canopy management efforts need to be considered and that the organizations are open to a balanced task force regarding the issue. In the op-ed, Prost focuses solely on the FCA and discusses the benefits trees provide. From the op-ed:

The FCA is not getting the job done. Too little forest is being conserved in Maryland. …

Developers are trying to block the legislation, claiming replanting would increase costs. Some local governments have joined in that lament.

But those same local governments have far more to lose from doing nothing. Forests provide counties billions of dollars in ecosystem services. The forests of Prince George’s County, for instance, remove 4.3 billion gallons of polluted runoff a year. If taxpayers had to provide those services, the cost would be $12.8 billion, according to a 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville. The same forests also remove 5,100 metric tons of airborne pollutants, a service worth $21 million.

And some benefits cannot be adequately measured in dollars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service says one acre of forest provides oxygen for 18 people for one day. What is the economic value of that? What is the cost of Maryland losing an average of at least 1,800 acres of forests a year?

It’s bad economics to allow developers to cut so much forest and eliminate so much of the public benefit of those trees without adequate compensation. It’s bad health and environmental policy.

Useful Links
HB 599 / SB 365 of 2017

 

 

MACo: Give Counties Greater Role in Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in favor of Senate Bill 851, “Public Service Commission – Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – Consistency With Comprehensive Plan” on March 14, 2017. The bill was heard before the Senate Finance Committee and was sponsored by Senator Justin Ready.

This bill would require the Public Service Commission (PSC), upon receipt of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a generation station or high voltage overhead transmission line, to send the application materials to each local government where the project will be located so that the local government could determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan. Each local government must review the application materials and determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan per § 1-303 of the Land Use Article. If the local government determines that the application is not consistent, then the PSC may not hold a public hearing or move forward on the application.

MACo’s testimony states,

Maryland is nationally recognized as a state that embraces robust long-term comprehensive planning and Smart Growth. Counties set development plans; agriculture, open space, and historic preservation goals; and environmental protection targets within their comprehensive plans and related planning tools. These plans and goals are all designed to properly manage long-term growth and preserve the unique identities of Maryland’s diverse communities. However, energy generation facilities are not subject to the same land use planning requirements.

Instead, energy facility siting is based on decades-old law that envisions small and relatively compact facilities like coal, oil, and nuclear plants as primary energy generators. But increasingly, energy generation is becoming more “dispersed” as technologies like solar, wind, biomass, and gasification are now poised to be primary generators. These technologies bring many advantages but also some drawbacks – including a need for significant amounts of open space.

According to the Nature Conservancy, energy development now consumes more open space in the United States than residential, commercial, and industrial development. Maryland is seeing a “gold rush” as energy companies are optioning thousands of acres, regardless of local government plans and needs. Over 3,000 acres are already in the development pipeline for large-scale solar facilities alone. SB 851 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops.

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1350, sponsored by Delegate April Rose, was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 9, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Advocates for Local Zoning Authority of Large Energy Generation Facilities

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in favor of Senate Bill 931, “Local Jurisdictions – Zoning Authority – Generating Stations” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Finance Committee. Senators John Astle and Stephen Hershey sponsored the bill.

SB 931 would give a voice to the communities and local governments in the zoning process for properly siting large-scale energy generation facilities and would strike a reasonable balance between long-term land use planning and the need for utility-scale energy generation facilities.

MACo’s testimony states,

SB 931 would allow counties and municipalities with zoning authority to enact binding zoning for utility-scale energy generation facilities that need to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission (PSC) or have a generation capacity of at least 2 megawatts. Community or small-scale projects are unaffected.

In order for a local government’s zoning to be binding, the local government must engage in an “enhanced” zoning process for each energy generation technology it wishes to zone for – including meeting with appropriate energy developer representatives and incorporating factors identified by the PSC as important to that energy generation technology. For the zoning to be binding, a local government must generate viable project sites and cannot simply ban a particular technology.

Currently, there is a disconnect between laws governing the siting of energy facilities and laws governing land use planning.

SB 931 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops. Despite several recent decisions by the PSC that found in favor of local governments over proposed energy sites in Kent and Allegany Counties, the decisions made it very clear that the PSC retains its preemption authority over local zoning and that the decisions were based on the specific facts of the case. The finding could be different in the next case. A systemic solution is still needed.

SB 931 attempts to provide a solution by requiring local governments that wish to enact binding zoning to ensure they generate viable project sites while still giving the PSC the authority to override local zoning for grid integrity issues. The bill also moves local participation toward the start of the siting process, which will help provide more certainty both to citizens and energy developers. Otherwise, it is likely that contentious siting battles and costly litigation will continue.

Joining Mr. Knapp in testifying on SB 931 were:

  • Mary Kay Verdery (Talbot County)
  • Mike Pullen (Talbot County)
  • Bill Jorch (Maryland Municipal League)
  • Candace Donoho (Maryland Municipal League)

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1592, is currently in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Opposes Local Land Use Infringement Near Certain Religious Properties

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 421, “Counties – Historic Preservation – Development Limitation” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Senator Douglas Peters is the bill sponsor.

SB 421 would infringe on local land use authority and create land use challenges for properties located in a charter or code home rule county that seeks to redevelop or improve but is adjacent to certain “religious property” as defined in the bill.

MACo’s testimony states,

While MACo appreciates the bill sponsor’s concerns over a limited class of religious buildings, the requirements of SB 421 apply to all 17 charter and code home rule counties and may hamper long-term land use plans in those jurisdictions.

Based on a quick review, Montgomery County identified at least 7 sites meeting the bill’s criteria for religious property – suggesting there may be scores of similarly situated properties across the state. Baltimore City and other densely developed urban areas likely cannot comply with the bill’s 600-foot buffer for their qualifying religious properties.

SB 421 seeks to address concerns over a narrow class of developments but the bill’s provisions pose county land use challenges and potentially unanticipated consequences throughout the state. The bill’s intended remedy is both overbroad and unnecessarily infringes on local land use autonomy.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.