Sustainable Growth Plan Concerns Legitimate

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Local governments across the state came out in force against PlanMaryland last weekend in Ocean City during the Maryland Association of Counties Convention. In most cases they have valid concerns, specifically about the timeline of implementation.

PlanMaryland is Gov. Martin O’Malley administration’s stab at improving communication among state agencies and local governments when it comes to land planning and steering appropriate growth to designated areas. It’s similar to former Gov. Parris Glendening’s smart growth brainchild.

“We need more coordination and greater efficiency among state agencies toward that objective. PlanMaryland will provide that focus, with collaboration from local governments. It will not supplant local planning. Rather, it will help inform local plans and local plans will also help shape it,” O’Malley said recently.

Local officials in Worcester and Wicomico expressed their opposition to the initiative during government meetings last week. Others used MACo, held in Ocean City each August, to voice their concerns.

“I am very much in favor of the resolution and to keep our own zoning rules and regulations within Wicomico County, kick it to the curb.” Wicomico County Councilman Bob Culver said last week.

Officials in Worcester were not as outspoken about it, but the County Commissioners last week asked Richard Hall, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning, to slow down the initiative amid fears the state was going to push this on the local jurisdictions without them understanding it completely.

Worcester Commissioner Madison Bunting specifically asked for assurances, “the individual county retains the right to do what they think best for the county.” In response, Hall said the state was not attempting to supersede local controls, only to develop a collective strategy to protect agriculture and preserve land.

The concern over loss of local control over development and permitting is valid, but we do not believe PlanMaryland will strip local officials of their authority. However, in some cases that would be welcome because some leaders in office think development is good anywhere and everywhere and whenever.

We believe there needs to be growth, but it needs to be organized and centered around existing infrastructure. There needs to be a comprehensive structure and policy to how development takes place, and O’Malley’s intentions are sound here.

Maryland and its individual counties need to grow wisely, and the fact the state is moving ahead with a statewide comprehensive plan does not mean local comprehensive plans are null and void nor does it mean any authority is being wrestled away from the counties.

What PlanMaryland does do is put down on paper a smart growth vision for Maryland providing a specific structure to coordinate state agencies and local governments to follow when making land use decisions.

We do not see how this framework will dramatically alter the way governments view and decide on growth. However, it enhances the state’s monitoring of these decisions.

The most legitimate concern here with PlanMaryland is that it’s being rushed, and state officials would be wise to make sure officials in all corners of the state are aware and understand all it entails before jamming it through.

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