By Megan Poinski
This is the last of a series of four articles on PlanMaryland, the proposed state planning guidelines that have stirred passionate opposition from many local officials.
PlanMaryland is far from a done deal.
The public comment period on the second draft plan ended last week. The 1974 enacting legislation that required the plan to be written makes PlanMaryland an executive issue, meaning it does not need approval from the General Assembly to take effect. But Senate President Mike Miller, under pressure from rural Republicans and perhaps more importantly, county officials from across the state, has asked for a Senate hearing in January.
Maryland Department of Planning Director of Communications Andrew Ratner said that the plan right now is to spend some time looking at the comments that have been collected on the draft plan, use them to update and make changes to the plan, and forward a more finished version to Gov. Martin O’Malley for his review before the end of the year.
What happens outside of that basic schedule will impact how the plan evolves and is accepted.
Involve the General Assembly
Recently elected state Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, who represents the largely rural Upper Shore, has been crusading against what he calls the O’Malley administration’s “war on rural Maryland.” Pipkin said that many O’Malley policy proposals are designed to make radical changes to many aspects of life for residents in the rural counties: raising tolls on key bridges, trying to place tighter controls on septic systems, proposed gas tax increases, and removing local authority for planning through PlanMaryland.
“This is not little stuff,” Pipkin said. “This is a way-of-life thing.”
Pipkin brought PlanMaryland front and center during last month’s special legislative session on redistricting. He proposed several bills that would hamper implementation of the plan – including one that would prohibit the Department of Planning from adopting anything that would restrict local authority over zoning, and requiring that any state development plan needed to pass the General Assembly in order to be enacted.
None of Pipkin’s bills were considered because legislative leaders kept the focus of the session on redistricting, but Pipkin was able to start a debate on the issue. Because of the debate, Senate President Mike Miller sent a letter to Planning Secretary Richard Hall, asking him to delay implementation of PlanMaryland until there could be a briefing on the plan in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee prior to the beginning of the 2012 session.
Ratner said that the department welcomes that opportunity and looks forward to having the hearing.
Pipkin also looks forward to the hearing.
“We need to talk it out,” Pipkin said. “It’s clear that the rural parts of the state are in an uproar.”
Not bringing PlanMaryland before the General Assembly, especially because the enabling legislation is nearly four decades old, is like “coming in through the back door,” Pipkin said. Something so significant should have a full hearing and discussion, which the General Assembly can provide.
Pipkin could not predict what might happen in the General Assembly as they look at PlanMaryland and his legislation, but he said that there is quite a lot of interest in how the plan is put together.
“I’ve never seen this kind of coalition of people at the local level, the county and municipal levels, in the state, and interest groups. They’re all opposed to what PlanMaryland is all about.”
Pipkin said that he might also take a look at the legality of building a plan from enacting legislation that passed so long ago.
PlanMaryland a “nothing-burger” says Sen. Ron Young
One state senator, Ron Young of Frederick County, strongly disagreed with Pipkin.
“I think PlanMaryland is a nothing-burger,” Young told the chamber as Pipkin was pushing for consideration of his measures.
Democrat Young was former mayor of Frederick City and smart growth coordinator under Gov. Parris Glendening. His son Blaine Young is the conservative Republican president of Frederick County Commission — and a vehement opponent of Plan Maryland.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Young called PlanMaryland one of “one of the worst PR debacles that has ever been put forth.”
But Young insisted, “PlanMaryland does not supersede local zoning.”
“It isn’t changing anything,” he said. “It’s just putting into one place” what existed elsewhere.
“There’s nothing new” Plan Maryland is “taking all the policies and putting them into one place.”
Hold off a little while
Other opponents to the plan think that the best idea is for the Department of Planning to slow down a bit, holding off on implementing it in favor of more meetings with local officials to ensure that their concerns are addressed.
Les Knapp, the Maryland Association of Counties associate director, said that something very basic is missing from the plan: local entities don’t really know what rules and regulations it will put in place.
Many county governments feel that they were left out of the planning process, and their viewpoints were not heard, Knapp said. The best way to remedy this is to produce a truly collaborative plan.
“The only way a true collaboration will occur is if you get everyone sitting down together and talking about it,” Knapp said.
Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild agreed.
“A plan that has buy-in from the local governments, people will go with,” he said. “The Department of Planning needs to slow it down and engage in work sessions.”
Knapp and Maryland Farm Bureau Assistant Director of Government Relations Kurt Fuchs both said that the Department of Planning has been receptive to their concerns about the plan, and has been willing to talk about many of the issues.
“We think there are still hopefully some changes being integrated,” Fuchs said.
Ratner said that the Department of Planning has tried to be inclusive from the beginning of the drafting process – especially in the rural areas of the state. The department concentrated its outreach efforts there, and has been in constant communication with rural officials. They will continue to do so, he said.
“The process has worked, and we haven’t walked away from the table,” Ratner said.