Planning and zoning chief reflects on key issues of her 2 1/2 years

September 11, 2005

Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning, has been criticized for everything from being too soft on developers to being too hard on them.

She comments on some of the key issues that have dominated her department over the past 2 1/2 years:

Growth: "People all complain about the traffic on the road, but in many people's minds that means we have to stop growth so we won't have any more traffic. You can't stop the growth. So how to we accommodate it?"

Developers: "Some people paint developers as all bad, but they forget that it was a developer who built their house or a developer who built the office they go to work in. We need developers because they build things we need, facilities we need."

Environment: "If everybody could live at the level that is advertised in the newspapers, we probably would destroy the planet. We just can't consume resources at the level that industrialized society wants to. We need to sustain the planet in the long term. We all need to learn how to coexist, and in a way that doesn't disrespect and tromp on each other."

General Plan: "Ultimately the general plan is a policy document. ... The goal is to get more citizens more involved in thinking `big picture,' because that's where decisions get made. Trying to fight subdivision of the property down the road or across the street or behind you - it's too late."

High density: "The options are, you have smart growth or you have stupid growth. The state requires us to determine where is our growth area, which in Howard County is east - that's where [public] water and sewer is and access to major roads. So you don't have the east become just a homogenous blur, we want to build some greater density and a few focal points."

Rural west: "Instead of chopping the land up into 3-acre lots and you have nothing left except a spread-out subdivision, we went to a policy of clustering, and we defined the rural conservation areas. ... Sometimes you do the best you can, but things change. So you make adjustments. ... We're still trying to keep the west rural and a place where there is a chance for agriculture preservation."

Planning Board: "They are very independent and very thoughtful. They are trying to do the right thing. They're all citizens, they listen to citizens, they know where the citizens are coming from and it's hard for them."

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