By Megan Poinski
Comments have been heard, changes have been incorporated, and now PlanMaryland is an official state policy.
Gov. Martin O’Malley received the final draft of the planning document from Planning Secretary Richard Hall at a State House ceremony Monday morning. O’Malley issued an executive order declaring that the plan will now be recognized as the official state development plan.
Flanked by former governors Harry Hughes and Parris Glendening – his predecessors in smart growth and environmentally sensitive policies – O’Malley explained that the plan will help Maryland move forward by maintaining the natural environment, clean water, and the state’s farmland.
“At the end of the day, PlanMaryland is really about building a stronger and more sustainable future for our kids and grandkids so they can have the same quality of life we have,” O’Malley said.
PlanMaryland, Hall said, follows a General Assembly directive from 1974 to tie together the many different smart growth programs the state has in all of its departments. Under PlanMaryland, everything is united under a single document and set of goals.
“Much of what the plan is about is getting the best use out of the existing programs,” he said. “It’s a policy plan to drive us in the right direction.”
Changes in the new draft
PlanMaryland has been controversial since it came out. earlier this year. Many Marylanders – especially those involved with rural and agricultural communities – believe that PlanMaryland takes zoning and planning rights away from local communities, and instead gives ultimate decision-making authority to the state.
Hall has said that PlanMaryland seeks to build on existing processes and keep planning power in the hands of people in local communities.
The biggest change in the last draft of the document, he said, rewrites that portion of the plan to better show that his department needs to work in collaboration with local communities for everyone to decide how planning maps will be drawn and which areas will be targeted for development.
“We are very clear that Maryland is not taking land use authority,” Hall said.
The final draft of the document has also been edited for clarity and conciseness. The September draft of the document had some numbers left out and replaced by “XX.” Hall said on Monday that the Xs have either been replaced with real numbers or deleted.
Hall said the next big step for his department is to start speaking with local governments and planning boards about how to draw the maps in their communities and determine where to focus development and preservation. This is the beginning of a collaborative effort, in which the state will work to fine-tune future plans based on local preferences. The plans will be based on the state’s already existing GreenPrint, AgPrint and GrowthPrints.
In the next year, Hall expects locality maps to be drawn and for the plan to be completely filled out.
On the state government side of things, the executive order directs all state agencies to look at their plans, programs and policies and see how they can be aligned to support the goals and objectives of PlanMaryland. In six months, each agency needs to submit a work plan to better implement PlanMaryland – as well as a timeline to get that work done – to the Smart Growth Subcabinet. This subcabinet is a group of state government officials tasked with implementing PlanMaryland.
Hall said that despite the high profile pushback against the plan, most people involved in local planning have been fairly easy to work with. He has already discussed the plan with one county, and both county and state agreed on everything within a few hours.
However, Hall and O’Malley also have to fight the negative press that the plan has received. Hall said that the bottom line is that there are people who oppose smart growth, period.
O’Malley said that underneath all of the rhetoric, most people do support smart growth and they want the state’s natural treasures – like the Eastern Shore, the mountains of Western Maryland, and the abundant farmland – to be preserved for future generations. However, he said, planning is a hard thing. The American ethic values ownership of wide-open spaces and property rights. But on the other hand, there’s the somewhat conflicting belief that everyone is a part of the situation of controlling growth in Maryland, and that by working together, the situation will improve.
“This is something we did because of the shared reality we have,” O’Malley said. “This is not a substitute for local decisions.”
Because the final draft was not released before O’Malley accepted it, very few people who had been opposed to it had read it by Monday afternoon.
Les Knapp of the Maryland Association of Counties had read through the plan. His verdict was that while the Department of Planning had incorporated many of the changes MACo had suggested, there were still big issues that concern him.
“This is a plan with many critical blanks,” Knapp said.
For starters, he said, despite what Hall may say about the plan being an opportunity for local planning boards and the state to collaborate on planning, it still appears that the Smart Growth Subcabinet will have final say on how the maps are drawn. Also, he said, the revised plan does not indicate how disagreements over planning between local planners and the state will be resolved.
There are also few details in how planning area and state implementation guidelines will be set. And MACo’s other major concern is that projects will be denied – regardless of funding availability or local approval – if they do not fit with what is outlined in PlanMaryland.
State Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, who has been at the forefront of protesting the plan, said that he has started to look deep into what the new draft plan says.
His biggest problem so far is that O’Malley instituted the plan as an executive order instead of having the General Assembly review it first. Pipkin offered legislation during the special legislative session in October that would require legislative approval of any statewide planning document, and he vowed to bring it to the General Assembly again in January. Pipkin questioned O’Malley’s motivation.
“Why is he being so arrogant, and what is he afraid of?” Pipkin asked.
Maryland Farm Bureau Assistant Director of Government Relations Kurt Fuchs said that the executive order was also a problem with his members. They approved a policy statement this month saying PlanMaryland should be submitted to the legislature for its approval.
Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, an outspoken critic of the plan, had not seen the newest version on Monday. He also agreed that it should have gone through the General Assembly for approval.
“If we are going to keep our constitutional republic, I do not believe issuing the plan by executive fiat is appropriate,” Rothschild said.