Maryland is making plans for future growth

Effort is aimed at helping localities guide development

March 08, 2010|By Tim Wheeler | Baltimore Sun reporter

State officials are launching this week a yearlong effort to write a statewide growth plan, hoping to forge a consensus on how Maryland can curb sprawl while accommodating 1 million more people in the next 20 years.

The state Department of Planning intends to hold a series of 13 public forums across Maryland about how to balance population and economic growth with environmental protection and quality of life. The first forum will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Carroll Community College in Westminster.

"It's the first time the state has ever done anything like this," said Richard Josephson, director of planning services. State planners have had the legal authority to draw up a statewide development plan since the 1970s, he said, but have never acted on it.

Now, though, amid signs that Maryland's Smart Growth laws and policies haven't slowed the spread of suburbia over the past 12 years, state officials are dusting off that unused planning tool.

"If we continue [developing] at the rate we're going, we'll use up 560,000 acres in the next 20 years," Josephson said. That's nearly equal to all the land in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties combined, he noted, calling it "staggering to think about."

PlanMaryland, as the initiative has been dubbed, is the latest effort by the O'Malley administration to address the state's growth issues, and the fierce debates they often generate in local communities.

A task force on the future for growth and development formed in 2008 led to legislation last year laying out 12 "visions" that all counties and municipalities need to incorporate in their local growth plans. But the task force has been unable to agree on more contentious questions, such as how to revise the state's Smart Growth laws to encourage more development in or near existing communities while better protecting farms and forests.

Local and state officials have sparred at times over the state's role in guiding development. The state growth plan is not meant to usurp the power that local officials traditionally wield in deciding land use in their jurisdictions, Josephson said. Instead, it will lay out shared goals and strategies for achieving them, such as making communities more walkable and increasing housing affordability.

"Obviously, there will be development," Josephson said. "Over the next years we're going to have a million more people, 400,000 more homes and about 600,000 more jobs. So the challenge is ... how do we plan to accommodate that, and what is the state's role?"

After the forums conclude in June, state planners aim to spend the rest of the year drafting a statewide development plan. They intend to finalize it in spring 2011 after giving the public a chance to comment on it in another round of public meetings.

For information on the scheduled forums, go to plan.maryland.gov/home.shtml.

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