• PlanMaryland - An Effort at "Smarter" Growth
  • May 26, 2011 | Author: Jennifer R. Busse
  • Law Firm: Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P. - Baltimore Office
  • After three years of work, including 13 public meetings in 2010, the Maryland Department of Planning has issued its draft of PlanMaryland. It is touted as the state's first ever sustainable growth and development plan, and calls for close interaction between state and local government and the private sector. The plan's purpose is to "promote the general welfare and prosperity of the people of the State through the coordinated development of the State."

    Clearly, the focus of PlanMaryland is on the preservation of land and natural resources. Citing anticipated growth of one million residents over the next 20 years, and a projected "loss" of 560,000 acres to development by 2030, PlanMaryland calls for the reduction of land consumption. The drafted plan claims that three-quarters of the state's growth in terms of land area is occurring outside of the Priority Funding Areas identified as a result of Maryland's 1997 Smart Growth legislation.

    PlanMaryland is intended, it appears, to be cited in the future in support of various spending initiatives, or more likely as a reason to prohibit spending in certain areas. Even a quick read makes it clear that the 1997 Smart Growth legislation is now seen as having been only somewhat successful - -- if the Priority Funding Areas were carrots for the type of land development the Governor desires, then PlanMaryland will be the stick. The comments on both the website and the drafted plan indicate that PlanMaryland is intended to prevent development actions that contradict planning goals, obviously an effort to avoid the type of controversy in the Terrapin Run case.

    The foundation for PlanMaryland is the set of "12 Visions" Governor O'Malley previously signed into law. PlanMaryland is meant to provide a framework for the implementation of these twelve planning visions. By law, local jurisdictions are required to both include the visions in their local comprehensive plans and implement them through zoning ordinances and regulations.

    However, what is arguably lacking from PlanMaryland is recognition of the importance of development for economic stimulus and the role that development plays in the economy generally. While certainly these issues are addressed elsewhere, for this new effort to be successful, perhaps they should be addressed head-on in the plan. Obviously the elephant in the room is the struggling economy and the balance that is needed between real estate development and land preservation.

    How can you get involved? The Department of Planning is seeking feedback on the draft plan until September 1, 2011. Eight "Open Houses" will be held this month and next. All of the information is provided on the website http://plan.maryland.gov. After the 120 day public comment period, a final version of PlanMaryland will be presented to Governor O'Malley.

    Comments on the draft plan in general, as well as on the "Designated Places" identified on the Interactive PlanMaryland Map, are encouraged. Keep in mind that it is very possible that the areas that are specifically identified will be subject to special treatment in the future - either in the form of additional regulations restricting development; or, if identified as being appropriate for future development, hopefully in the form of new incentives.

    PlanMaryland calls for future growth occurring, for the most part, in a very narrow and restricted area of the state - namely along the I-95 corridor. This means existing communities will be required to accept larger concentrations of population than they have likely envisioned, and that development will be strongly curtailed in both western Maryland and the eastern shore areas.