Gov. Martin O'Malley's PlanMaryland, which has become the subject of bitter opposition in parts of rural Maryland, is now official state policy for managing growth.

At a ceremony that included two of his Democratic predecessors, O'Malley formally accepted the plan, which had gone through two draft versions before being adopted. The plan has been decried by conservative county officials and Republican legislators as a usurpation of local power over land use, but O'Malley defended it Monday as a framework for making wise decisions about where the state should invest in capital projects.

Former governors Harry R. Hughes and Parris N. Glendening, both Democrats, joined O'Malley at a State House news conference to praise the plan as a continuation of their efforts in office to protect the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the administration, the plan provides a framework for state agencies and local governments to evaluate whether proposed development projects meet the smart growth standards in existing state law. But critics contend it goes further and amounts to legislation by executive order.

O'Malley said the plan will not dictate local land-use policies but will guide state spending, steering money away from projects that promote sprawling development.

"The state's not going to be a part of those stupid decisions, and we're not going to be subsidizing stupid decisions — pardon me — unsustainable decisions," O'Malley said.

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin called O'Malley's adoption of the plan by executive order "the height of arrogance," contending it should have been brought to the legislature in the form of a bill.

Pipkin vowed to introduce legislation that would undo the plan and predicted it could win bipartisan backing.

"All 188 members of the General Assembly should be taking a look at how the governor has decided now to implement such a controversial plan," he said.

Opponents of PlanMaryland will also study it to see whether parts can be challenged in court, Pipkin said. "It strips residents of their property rights without compensation."

The administration contends that it does not need legislative approval because it is acting under the authority of a 1959 law in which the General Assembly called for the executive branch to prepare a state development plan. It said the age of a statute has no bearing on its legal authority to act.

State Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall said the policy can be withdrawn or changed by future governors.

Glendening, architect of the 1997 law that made smart growth state policy, called the adoption of the plan "a major movement ahead." He said the policy would strengthen the state's effort.

"We need those teeth," Glendening said.

O'Malley said the "teeth" behind the policy would be "budget consequences" for localities that make decisions that run counter to the guidelines.

The plan seeks to discourage the spread of what it calls "large lot development areas" — subdivisions that are typically built with septic systems rather than with public water and sewer. The policy explicitly seeks to discourage the spread of such developments by minimizing funding for programs that fuel such growth.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com