PlanMaryland divide: Is it a new rural order?

January 28, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Maryland Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall, at the microphone, talks about PlanMaryland on Thursday with the House Environmental Matters Committee.
By Andrew Schotz

At the heart of a battle over a new state planning initiative is whether anything in it is new.

On Thursday, another round played out, as legislators from rural areas insisted PlanMaryland will mean a significant shift toward centralized control, while the state’s planning secretary assured that criticism is misguided and exaggerated.

The fight is expected to intensify as opponents recruit more lawmakers to their cause and try to combat the plan through legislation. A hearing on one bill is scheduled for Thursday.

Through a five-page executive order in December, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, accepted PlanMaryland as “the State Development Plan.”

The executive order says the state and local governments will work together on “criteria for identifying appropriate locations for Planning Areas that State agencies will use to direct their resources to achieve the goals and objectives of PlanMaryland.”

“It’s not what’s said. It’s what’s not said,” Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Caroline/Cecil/Kent/Queen Anne’s, told Rural Caucus members on Thursday. “It’s like a giant mound of Jell-O.”

Pipkin called it “brilliant strategy” to not explicitly state how land planning would be affected, but he promised that it would happen.

Later that day, Maryland Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall told the House Environmental Matters Committee that there has been a great deal of criticism about PlanMaryland driven by unfounded worry.

People have critiqued what the document might do, but haven’t pinpointed anything wrong with what it states, Hall said.

“It’s a coordination plan for existing state programs,” Hall told the committee. “It is not meant to take over local zoning. It’s not a plot for any United Nations, as some have said.”

Executive summary

An executive summary Hall shared with the committee says all counties and municipalities will get Draft Planning Area Guidelines to review. State agencies will examine their own planning programs, while municipalities and counties do the same, seeing how they match what the state has.

Through this coordination, planning areas will be created, probably by the end of this year.

“Existing State programs, policies and resources will be directed, and local efforts are encouraged to be directed as appropriate, to these Planning Areas to better achieve the goals for growth and preservation,” the executive summary says.

Hall said questions that skeptics have raised about the effect of PlanMaryland and the authority of the Maryland Department of Planning were answered in a pair of state attorney general’s office letters last year.

Among the conclusions from the attorney general’s office:

  • “PlanMaryland is not a new law. It is a policy plan that was developed by the Maryland Department of Planning.”
  • “MDP has no authority over a local jurisdiction’s land use decisions. Rather, MDP has the power to intervene in local land use proceedings to express the State’s views.”
  • “While the General Assembly has delegated, with certain requirements, land use zoning and planning powers to local jurisdictions, it has not delegated to local jurisdictions the powers of water and sewer planning, which also relate to land use and can affect a local jurisdiction’s land use decisions.”
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