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O’Malley Presents Maryland Growth Plan At Summer Conference

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OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP) — Maryland county officials wary of a statewide plan for sustainable growth told state officials on Friday that the plan will create a fundamental change in state land-use policy and limit local control.

At issue is PlanMaryland, a statewide effort to prevent sprawl in one of the nation’s most densely populated states. Doug Howard, president of the Carroll County Commission, said county officials would like six months longer to digest the plan and discuss it with citizens. Howard, a Republican, asked a panel of state officials, “Why the rush?”

Bob Simmons, a Queen Anne’s County commissioner, said even more time was needed.

“We need a year to discuss it before the public and get it digested,” Simmons, a Republican, said during a question-and-answer period in a crowded convention room at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference.

A public comment period on the plan ends Sept. 1, but there will be an additional comment period after that. Richard Hall, the state’s secretary for the department of planning, said another draft plan will be issued in September. There will be an additional 30 days review period to review it. The plan will then be presented to Gov. Martin O’Malley in October.

O’Malley, a Democrat, began a presentation on the plan by underscoring how Maryland has grown to be the fifth most densely populated state in the nation, and he said the “red light is blinking” in warning to form a comprehensive development plan before sprawl consumes too much forest and agricultural land. The governor also noted that lawmakers decided in 1974 that the state needs a development plan, and Maryland still doesn’t have one.

“One of the things that the maps have been telling us, I think pretty loudly and clearly, is that we have been failing for a generation or more to really grow in a way that is sustainable, that is smart and that uses this limited resource of ours — the land — in the best and most effective way possible,” O’Malley said after the panel discussion.

The governor also said there’s nothing in the plan that takes away local authority.

“There’s nothing in this plan that takes back your local land use decision-making authority, but there will be things in this plan that guide us as we make investments at the state level on a whole bunch of things that support the quality of life that the people you and I both serve, whether it’s public schools, whether it’s public roads, whether it’s wastewater treatment plants and those sorts of things,” O’Malley said.

Under the plan, the state will make spending decisions on infrastructure based on how well counties follow the plan.

O’Malley was blunt in describing the process while talking with reporters.

“This is not a law that prohibits counties from making stupid land use decisions,” the governor said. “They’re still free to do that, but we’re not going to subsidize it anymore.”

O’Malley also emphasized that the process will be gradual.

“You will see it over time affecting all of our capital decisions,” O’Malley said. “There will not be a sort of, you know, thunderbolt on the road to Damascus, though. This is going to be an evolving process.”

Some county officials are equally blunt in describing their views that local officials will lose power under the plan.

“To me, it may be good intentioned, but in my opinion what they say that it’s not is exactly what it is, and that is that it’s going to be force-fed from the top down and mandated and dictated, if you don’t get on with the program,” said Blaine Young, president of the Frederick County Board of County Commissioners.

A state analysis released Thursday by the state’s department of planning found that developed lands in the state increased 8.4 percent between 2002 and 2010. Hall cited the study as evidence that a state growth plan is needed, because the data shows Maryland has developed more than 1.6 million acres, or about 27 percent of the state’s total land area. Hall said that is more than double the 654,000 acres surveyed in 1973, which constituted about 11 percent of the state’s land area.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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