Alarmed, local jurisdictions seek a delay on land-use plan bill

December 13, 1990|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

The Maryland Association of Counties will ask Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the state's growth commission to hold off on legislation that would require local governments to submit land-use plans to the state for approval.

If accepted, MACO's suggestion most likely would result in a delay until at least 1992 of any adoption by the General Assembly of a plan to control growth statewide.

Raquel Sanudo, MACO executive director, said a review of the legislation drafted by the Maryland Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region caused alarm last week among members of MACO, which represents the governing bodies of all of the state's 24 jurisdictions.

County executives in Howard and Harford counties have independently voiced reservations about the proposal.

The draft -- known as the Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act of 1991 -- would require the state's 23 counties and Baltimore to place all land in one of four categories, ranging from high-growth districts to rural areas.

Those plans would then be submitted for approval to the state Office of Planning. If a county didn't comply, it could face a lawsuit from the state or a loss of funding.

Sanudo said a majority of MACO members feel the proposal "attempts to usurp local planning authority" and does not take into account differences among the counties. Moreover, she said, the bleak economic picture facing many counties have pushed financial management priorities ahead of growth management.

"This session is too soon to have a massive piece of legislation like that," Sanudo said. "We're in the throws of a recession, the throws of uncertainty. And just to make things worse, we have this massive bill."

Sanudo said she felt there was little chance the growth commission would substantially modify its draft and thought that asking the governor or state legislature to table the matter might be a better avenue to pursue.

A public hearing on the measure is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Reference Building in Annapolis.

Ronald M. Kreitner, state Office of Planning commissioner, whose office staffed the growth commission, said he is "hopeful" that county executives and other elected officials will sit down with the commission to hammer out ways of "achieving the objectives of the proposal."

He said he is confident any changes to the proposal can be made in time for the legislature to vote this year.

"Conditions are never just right for considering any major change or redirection in how we approach things," Kreitner said. "Yet, we are dealing with a situation that requires more major change and the more delay we consider in remedying that, the more difficult it becomes to make those changes."

Locally, however, newly installed Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann said she would like to see any decision postponed until a formal review can be completed next summer.

Rehrmann and Howard County Executive Charles Ecker have sharply criticized the draft proposal, saying land use is best regulated by local government.

Commission members say the proposal is aimed at slowing the pace of growth in Maryland, which has seen development of 144,000 acres -- an area twice the size of Baltimore -- over the past five years.

In areas designated for population growth, the average residential density would be relatively high -- the goal is at least 3.5 dwelling units per acre.

Commercially zoned land would be set aside to provide for a minimum of 1.4 jobs per household. Counties would be encouraged to cluster development to preserve large areas of open space.

In rural areas, development would be limited to one home per 20 acres, again with an allowance for clustering.

Growth would be frozen in so-called sensitive areas, such as land in 100-year flood plains, along stream banks and steep slopes, and in habitats of endangered species.

"By making specific recommendation as to how many houses per acre, the feeling was that the commission went too far," Sanudo said. "It's one thing to talk about generalities, but it's another issue entirely to require local governments to plan in the format as prescribed by the state."

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