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Western Md. counties considering lobbyist

'We want to support the (comprehensive statewide growth plan), but we want to make sure it's fair for all of us'

September 15, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Board of Commissioners President Terry Baker is shown in this file photo. Baker said he met last week with commissioners from Garrett, Allegany, Frederick and Carroll counties, who discussed contributing $5,000 per county toward a lobbyist.
Herald-Mail file photo

Representatives of five Western Maryland counties are considering hiring a lobbyist to promote their interests as Maryland develops a comprehensive statewide growth plan, according to Washington County Board of Commissioners President Terry Baker.

Baker said he met last week with commissioners from Garrett, Allegany, Frederick and Carroll counties, who discussed contributing $5,000 per county toward a lobbyist.

"When we look at our community out here in Western Maryland, we are somewhat unique — we are in Appalachia — and we want to make sure that's discussed in the plan and it meets our needs," Baker said.

The state plan, dubbed PlanMaryland, calls for designating "growthprint," "greenprint" and "agprint" areas — plays on the word "blueprint" — where the state would encourage concentrated development, resource conservation and agricultural preservation, respectively.

In a briefing for the commissioners last month, county Planning and Zoning Director Stephen T. Goodrich warned that PlanMaryland's strategies include tying eligibility for state funding to conformance with its designations. Examples of affected funding in the initial draft included Program Open Space, agricultural preservation programs and money for infrastructure projects, Goodrich said.

Goodrich also flagged a section of the draft that would require all new, on-site septic systems to be strictly regulated and require installation of the best available nitrogen-reducing technology.

The septic system requirements — which disproportionately affect rural counties — were among the concerns discussed at the five-county meeting, Baker said.

He said Washington County also has in interest in ensuring the document does not interfere with redevelopment plans at Fort Ritchie or affect Hagerstown Regional Airport.

"We want to support the plan, but we want to make sure it's fair for all of us," Baker said.

Participants in the Western Maryland meeting discussed a "County Planning Bill of Rights" drafted by one of the participants, Baker said.

The draft bill of rights would assert that the state shall not "eliminate, lessen or usurp the authority" of local planning jurisdictions and that state land-use designations will not supersede local designations.

It also would also state that PlanMaryland is not a regulatory document, and, as such, if a local jurisdiction decides not to follow state recommendations on a given project, that would not affect state funding, permits or infrastructure for other projects.

During their meeting Tuesday, the Washington County commissioners did not discuss whether to contribute to the lobbyist or support the bill of rights. Baker said afterward that he brought up those suggestions so the commissioners could begin to consider them before making a decision at a future meeting.

During the August discussion, several of the commissioners agreed more consideration was needed for the unique qualities of Western Maryland counties.

"Our greatest fear is that they will try to put a highly dense, urban perspective on Washington County," Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said.

"Urban in Baltimore is much different than urban is in Washington County," Goodrich agreed.

In Washington County, when a density of three homes per acre is proposed, "adjacent property owners just go wild because they feel that's horrible, and it's much too dense," Goodrich said. "Three units an acre in Montgomery County is nothing. That's rural. That's farmland, almost."

The latest draft of PlanMaryland was released Friday with revisions based on response to the initial draft. The Maryland Planning Department is requesting public comment on the new draft through Nov. 9.

The draft is available online at http://plan.maryland.gov/draftPlan/draftPlan.shtml.

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