SNOW HILL — Though heavily revised, the new, state-bred “PlanMaryland” planning and zoning regulations still managed to spark a lot of shaking heads among the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday.
“That was one of the most miraculous rewrites I’ve ever seen in my 13-year political history,” commented Commissioner Virgil Shockley sarcastically.
Several months ago, when discussion on PlanMaryland first began, many on the commission seemed shocked. The original plan attracted a mountain of criticism.
“At that time, we had grave concerns that the plan as then written came perilously close to an outright intrusion into the local planning and zoning autonomy,” said Director of Development Review and Permitting Ed Tudor.
Tudor and the commission felt that PlanMaryland contained invasive and controlling language that would hijack county control of zoning to a degree and pass it on to the state level. Several other counties felt the same, and criticized PlanMaryland in the original 120-day comment period.
“I don’t think [the state] expected the recoil they got from a lot of local jurisdictions,” said Tudor.
While Tudor expected to see minor revisions after the state sorted through comments, he was surprised by the second draft of PlanMaryland so much he called it “a completely new plan.” Shorter and easier to read than the original, Tudor still felt that the core issues had not been resolved, and that the new format and chapters beyond the introduction still made him uneasy.
“I just don’t have any real comfort level beyond those opening chapters,” he told the commission.
The revisions didn’t impress Shockley either.
“The biggest problem with it is still the unknowns,” he said.
Shockley stressed that Worcester is already doing incredibly well handling planning and zoning on its own; so well, in fact, that the county has been praised by Annapolis.
“We do our job down here … they hold us up as the example for the state,” he said. “If we’re doing our job, leave us alone.”
Shockley called Annapolis “the school yard bully” in terms of invading county zoning authority.
Commission President Bud Church echoed his worries about the nuts and bolts of the plan.
“It’s the old, ‘if you can’t convince them, confuse them,’” he said.
The new revised plan only has a 60-day comment period and no additional revisions are planned. While the commission dutifully submitted comments and concerns, Shockley predicts that PlanMaryland will easily pass without much respect given to county concerns at the state level.
However, once the bill has been passed is when the real battle begins, said Shockley.
“Now what takes place after [Gov. Martin O’Malley] signs it is going to be war in and of itself,” he said.