Smart Growth or partisan planning? That is the question an increasing number of county and municipal officials throughout Maryland are asking. The issue that spurred this debate is the new "PlanMaryland" idea presented by Gov. Martin O'Malley at the recent Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City.
The governor and his minions went to great lengths to assure us all that PlanMaryland is merely a logical extension of existing Smart Growth legislation. Smart Growth was enacted in the 1990s and has as its core the stated purpose of directing new development to areas with existing infrastructure. Of course, to accomplish this goal, the state injected itself and its regulatory muscle into many land-use issues that forever had been the province of county and municipal government.
Many of us said at the time it was enacted that Smart Growth was just the first step toward ultimate state control, or at least "veto power," over local land-use decisions. PlanMaryland makes me think we were right.
What I find extremely interesting about PlanMaryland is not necessarily the content but the process. Unlike with Smart Growth, which was debated in the legislature for at least two full sessions, the O'Malley administration has presented PlanMaryland as an executive branch regulatory initiative. No legislation has been proposed, and thus there will be little opportunity for delegates and senators to debate the plan. I find this troubling. Why is the governor intent on bypassing the legislature on this extremely important issue?
If you don't yet think that PlanMaryland is a significant power grab by the state over local control of county and municipal growth and economic development, I urge you to read it. It is such a giant step toward the ultimate takeover by Annapolis of all land-use decisions that, at a minimum, it should be debated fully, openly and vigorously in the General Assembly.
Certainly, the governor is not avoiding the legislative debate because he doesn't think he has the votes. PlanMaryland is skewed in favor of the large metropolitan jurisdictions in, around and between Baltimore City and the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Those of us in the western, northern, eastern and southern counties are outnumbered and outvoted by the predominantly liberal Democrat jurisdictions in the metropolitan areas. The governor has used this demographic fact to his advantage many times.
Unfortunately, I think it is clear that PlanMaryland is merely the latest in a series of initiatives aimed squarely at the non-urban counties. Last year, the governor offered a septic system bill that would effectively stop all new housing to be served by well and septic development. Of course, that only impacts the more rural parts of the state. Combine that proposal with Smart Growth and the new PlanMaryland, and it is clear what the impact would be on less densely populated areas, like my home of Frederick County. We would have little or no development or economic growth.
So there must be another reason Governor O'Malley has chosen not to implement PlanMaryland through legislation. I believe he simply is not interested in hearing our views, as expressed by our representatives in Annapolis. We are a nuisance to him.
With public water and sewer unavailable to rural and many suburban areas of the state, and with the new limits being imposed to protect the Chesapeake Bay, all new development would be driven into metropolitan and urban areas, and our children and grandchildren would be forced to live on top of each other. And cities tend to vote for liberalDemocrats.
The governor told us in Ocean City that a house on an individual septic system pollutes the Chesapeake Bay 10 times more than a house on public sewer. Of course, there is no real science to back this up. But it is his justification to keep our children and grandchildren from building a home with a nice green yard near where their parents live and work.
Urban living, though preferred by many, is not for everyone. Those of us in the outer counties enjoy our lifestyle just as much as our counterparts down the road, and we have as much right to protect our way of living as they do theirs. We need to let the governor and the rest of the state government in Annapolis know that we will not stand for being steamrolled once again in the interest of another regulatory scheme that is being enacted "for our own good."
It is time for all of our senators and delegates, Republican and Democrat, to stand up for us in Annapolis and tell the governor and his cohorts that even though we do not live in one of their populous pet jurisdictions, we are Marylanders, too. After all, if you are going to have "One Maryland," you cannot have two classes of citizens.