ANNAPOLIS — Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, says he believes the state intends to assume firm control of land-use planning through a gubernatorially sponsored bill, despite assurances from a growth management commission that local jurisdictions will retain full decision-making powers.
Two members of the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region explained to the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday reasons why Maryland needs legislation setting standards for land development for the future.
But Haines, a committee member, said he is wary of the Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act, introduced by the Schaefer administration last week. He said he fears the legislation could usurppowers from county and municipal governments to chart their futures and adversely impact property owners' rights and equity in their land.
During the briefing, Haines told Commission Chairman Michael D. Barnes that constituents and government officials are concerned aboutrelinquishing local authority. He asked Barnes if the legislation would include a clause assuring that local planning and zoning powers would remain intact.
"That's the whole intent of the bill," responded Barnes, a lawyer and former congressman from Montgomery County. "Local officials will be making decisions, not any officials in Baltimore or Annapolis. There are no provisions saying state officials will decide where a county should grow or what to do with a specific pieceof land.
"Your concern is one we've heard from every county and avery important one. We could have come up with a plan that was more draconian -- we've certainly seen in our travels states that have more restrictive programs. Maryland has had a tradition of leaving land-use decisions to local governments, and this program continues that tradition."
The commission's recommendations -- on which the bill is based -- are designed to preserve Maryland's rapidly vanishing forests and farmlands, protect the environment and reduce local and stateinfrastructure costs by curtailing sprawling development and channeling growth to existing or planned population centers.
The bill would require local governments to classify every acre of land in their jurisdictions as "developed areas," "growth areas," "rural and resource areas" and "sensitive areas." The commission would establish criteria, to be adopted by the state Office of Planning, to evaluate whether local jurisdictions have established acceptable plans. Certain standards would be applied to regulate growth in each classified area. A permanent program is not expected to be in place until 1994, but an18-month interim program would be established if the bill passes.
Haines said he expects rural counties will oppose the legislation.
"I think it's a plan to try to control growth in rural areas throughout the state," he said. "I think you'll see heavily populated districts like Montgomery and Prince Georges support it. It won't have much effect on them locally."
He told Barnes that Carroll has land-use plans that "conform a lot to the spirit" of the legislation, notingthe county's successful farmland preservation efforts and its MasterPlan, which limits development in the agricultural district to one residential lot for every 20 acres -- the same as the commission's recommendation.
Haines will oppose the legislation, to be voted upon in the Economic and Environmental Affairs committee, because that seems to be what his constituents want, he said. He said it appeared thestate's approach is to "get a foot in the door, then have total control" eventually.
Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, who will consider the same bill in the House Environmental MattersCommittee, says some local officials have overreacted, noting the state delegated land use-powers to local jurisdictions and can take it back. Growth should be managed on a regional or statewide basis, not county by county, he said.
Haines argues that each of Maryland's 23 counties has unique characteristics and that a uniform statewide plan would not suit every counties' needs.