In 2012 my predecessor, County Executive Tari Moore, adopted a growth tier map proposal as required by the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 236) passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by then-Gov. Martin O'Malley. This version was formally adopted by the County Council four years later, in December 2016. As the current county executive, elected in November of 2016, I was cognizant that my predecessor did not intend for the current map to be a permanent solution. Under the constraints of time, she knew this needed more study. As a result, I created a Tier Map Advisory Committee that was charged with preparing a new tier map to replace the one adopted in 2012. That committee recently concluded its duties and recommended that the 2012 map remain in full force and effect since it protects property rights and safeguards our comprehensive plan.
A dispassionate and objective reading of SB 236 leads to the inescapable conclusion that the purported goal of environmental protection underlying the legislation is to control growth. Former Governor O'Malley, whose administration is responsible for the codification of this debacle, acknowledged as much in an interview with "The Atlantic Cities" when he stated that, as a result of smart growth, higher densities will be realized in the Baltimore Washington mega-region, stating: "We have to accommodate the population growth somewhere. We're all going to have to become more comfortable with higher density and making decisions that foster higher density and promote and improve quality of life in our city centers."
This dismissive attitude toward the land use policies of rural jurisdictions has been far too often displayed in Annapolis. Cecil County spent two years working on our current comprehensive plan. This effort involved a great deal of work by 41 individuals from the local community, representing a diversity of opinions and viewpoints on all matters related to land use. One cannot help feeling insulted when the state of Maryland passes legislation that abrogates local efforts and prerogatives regarding land use. After all, are we citizens of the county not intelligent enough to determine the best course of action to follow regarding future development?
In addition to supporting the economic viability of farming, residential development at appropriate densities in the rural areas of our county is contemplated and recognized in our comprehensive plan. The five members of the Tier Map Advisory Committee are individuals who brought broad experience with local land use to the table. The committee members were objective and did not taint the review process with personal agendas or vendettas. The Tier Map Advisory Committee provided a recommendation that reflects what is best for all of the landowners in the county, in harmony with the goals and objectives of our local comprehensive plan. It is imperative that the local land owners retain the ability to decide what is best for themselves and their families, whether that is preservation, development, or just remaining as-is. Any expanded Tier 4 area could significantly impact all landowners included in that tier by reducing their property values through the elimination of subdivision potential. This could compromise the agricultural community's ability to remain viable by negatively affecting their ability to borrow and manage debt. Expansive taking of property rights such as an expanded Tier 4 should not be forced on the citizens of Cecil County by the state of Maryland.
In closing, my goal is to implement a common sense approach to growth that is aligned with state law. The essence of this land use philosophy is to provide a sustainable future for this county, with a viable agricultural community and undiminished land values. In our efforts to develop a successor tier map, and in our negotiations with the state, we must safeguard the protection of property rights and our comprehensive plan's goals and objectives. Anything short of this would be a disservice to the hardworking citizens of this County.
Alan J. McCarthy, Elkton
Alan J. McCarthy, Elkton
The writer, a Republican, is Cecil County executive.