Gov. Martin O'Malley and his cabinet secretaries present PlanMaryland at MACo session Aug. 19. (By Glynis Kazanjian)

Gov. Martin O'Malley and his cabinet secretaries present PlanMaryland at the MACo session Aug. 19. (By Glynis Kazanjian)

By Megan Poinski

Yielding to pressure from local officials, the state is putting more time – and more feedback – into its comprehensive smart growth plan.

The Maryland Department of Planning announced on Thursday that it will allow about two more months for people to review and comment on the final version of  PlanMaryland. The plan lays out development in Maryland over the next 25 years.

Gov. Martin O’Malley presented the plan so far to local leaders last week at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) summer conference in Ocean City. While the first draft has been out since April, the next draft – complete with changes from several public hearings statewide – is due to be published in early September.

With the new timeline announced on Thursday, county leaders will have until Nov. 7 to comment on the plan. Those comments will all go into the final report, which will be sent to O’Malley in mid-November. Under the original time frame, the next draft was supposed to be the final report. Department of Planning spokesman Andrew Ratner said that the change will delay implementation by a few months.

MACo pleased, but some county officials want even more time

MACo has worked with the Planning Department to provide comments and feedback on different aspects of the plan, but has only taken a solid position on one thing: the need to increase the length of time that local government leaders have to review and comment on the draft, said MACo Associate Director Les Knapp Jr. County governments’ desire to have more time to spend with the draft was made clear through critical comments at last week’s meeting, and Knapp said it was good to see that the administration was responding to that.

“This is a significant change in land use for the state, and it is something that needs to be debated at length in counties and municipalities,” Knapp said.

When its formal position on the plan is completed, MACo may say that even more time may be needed for review, Knapp said. Several county leaders said that they may need as much as six months to review it, especially because the existing draft plan is missing a lot of specific information. Knapp said that O’Malley assured leaders at the MACo conference that many of these blanks would be filled in with the draft to be released next month.

MACo president, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, said that the changed time schedule represents progress.

“We’re really pleased, though we still have members who want more than 60 days to comment,” he said.

PlanMaryland has been worked on for three years through input from both members of the public and people dealing with government and services throughout the state. It was first authorized in 1974, though no plan has been written until now.

“Thirty-seven years have gone by, and the plan has never been done before,” Ratner said. “Taking a few more months shouldn’t lead to a policy problem.”