At the heart of a battle over a new state planning initiative is whether anything in it is new.
On Thursday, another round played out, as legislators from rural areas insisted PlanMaryland will mean a significant shift toward centralized control, while the state’s planning secretary assured that criticism is misguided and exaggerated.
The fight is expected to intensify as opponents recruit more lawmakers to their cause and try to combat the plan through legislation. A hearing on one bill is scheduled for Thursday.
Through a five-page executive order in December, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, accepted PlanMaryland as “the State Development Plan.”
The executive order says the state and local governments will work together on “criteria for identifying appropriate locations for Planning Areas that State agencies will use to direct their resources to achieve the goals and objectives of PlanMaryland.”
“It’s not what’s said. It’s what’s not said,” Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne’s, told Rural Caucus members on Thursday. “It’s like a giant mound of Jell-O.”
Pipkin called it “brilliant strategy” to not explicitly state how land planning would be affected, but he promised that it would happen.
Later that day, Maryland Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall told the House Environmental Matters Committee that there has been a great deal of criticism about PlanMaryland driven by unfounded worry.
People have critiqued what the document might do, but haven’t pinpointed anything wrong with what it states, Hall said.
“It’s a coordination plan for existing state programs,” Hall told the committee. “It is not meant to take over local zoning. It’s not a plot for any United Nations, as some have said.”
An executive summary Hall shared with the committee says all counties and municipalities will get Draft Planning Area Guidelines to review. State agencies will examine their own planning programs, while municipalities and counties do the same, seeing how they match what the state has.
Through this coordination, planning areas will be created, probably by the end of this year.
“Existing State programs, policies and resources will be directed, and local efforts are encouraged to be directed as appropriate, to these Planning Areas to better achieve the goals for growth and preservation,” the executive summary says.
Hall said questions that skeptics have raised about the effect of PlanMaryland and the authority of the Maryland Department of Planning were answered in a pair of state attorney general’s office letters last year.
Among the conclusions from the attorney general’s office:
- “PlanMaryland is not a new law. It is a policy plan that was developed by the Maryland Department of Planning.”
- “MDP has no authority over a local jurisdiction’s land use decisions. Rather, MDP has the power to intervene in local land use proceedings to express the State’s views.”
- “While the General Assembly has delegated, with certain requirements, land use zoning and planning powers to local jurisdictions, it has not delegated to local jurisdictions the powers of water and sewer planning, which also relate to land use and can affect a local jurisdiction’s land use decisions.”
Preparing for development
In 1959, the legislature created the Department of Planning and directed it to “prepare plans for the development of the State ... which shall be known as the State Development Plan,” PlanMaryland says.
The Land Use of Act of 1974 affirmed the planning department’s role in the plan and the process, PlanMaryland says.
Laws creating a Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development in 2007 and the Sustainable Growth Commission in 2010 were additional steps toward a state plan, as were the 12 “State Planning Visions” in the Smart, Green & Growing Planning legislation of 2009, according to PlanMaryland.
O’Malley’s executive order says more than 3,000 people attended Department of Planning public meetings in 2008, 2010 and 2011 on a state development plan and hundreds of others commented online.
State officials say they need a coordinated plan to accommodate a projected 1 million more residents, 500,000 new households and 600,000 new jobs by 2035.
PlanMaryland is expected to help save at least 300,000 acres of farmland and forest over the next 25 years and save an estimated $1.5 billion a year in infrastructure costs during the next 20 years, the executive summary says.
Rural counties fight back
Many legislators and local governments aren’t convinced by the state’s assurances.
Four dissatisfied counties — Washington, Frederick, Carroll and Allegany — have formed a Maryland Rural Counties Coalition and hired lobbyists Bruce C. Bereano and William R. Miles to represent them.
Bereano said Friday that opponents have made a good deal of progress with their plans to file legislation and testify at bill hearings.
He said there also has been some interest in expanding the coalition, although he wouldn’t name which counties might join.
In December, when Washington County committed to the Rural Counties Coalition, a news release said a broader group called the Association of Western, Agricultural, Rural, Eastern Shore Counties, or AWARE, might develop.
Even though Hall told the Environmental Matters Committee that PlanMaryland doesn’t create any new regulations or laws, Bereano said there’s “a very strong feeling” it should go through the legislature for review. Opponents have filed bills that would make that requirement explicit.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne’s, and Del. Galen R. Clagett, D-Frederick, filed separate bills in October that would require the General Assembly to approved a state development plan.
Two Republicans in the Washington County delegation — Dels. Michael J. Hough and Neil C. Parrott — co-sponsored Smigiel’s bill.
Clagett’s bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Environmental Matters Committee on Thursday.
Smigiel’s bill also had been scheduled for a hearing Thursday, but the hearing has been postponed, according to the General Assembly website.
- To read Gov. Martin O’Malley’s executive order on PlanMaryland, go to www.governor.maryland.gov/blog/?p=3229
- To read PlanMaryland or an executive summary, go to http://plan.maryland.gov/plan/plan.shtml