Hogan headed the wrong direction on planning

As a certified professional planner and former secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning that oversaw PlanMaryland, I feel compelled to respond to your editorial on Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to kill the program (“Smart growth is still smart,” Aug. 21). The announcement seemed fitting given this era of cynical government leaders. Governor Hogan’s latest rolling back of smart growth and environmental efforts emerges from lies and misrepresentations and is wrapped in political opportunism.

The editorial correctly highlighted part of the motivation behind this announcement given it was made at the governor’s annual speech at the Maryland Association of Counties conference. It is important to keep in mind that unlike Maryland’s population, the majority of county elected officials are Republican. This was clearly serving up red meat to Mr. Hogan’s allies. Local governments get planning and zoning authority from their state governments. It is irresponsible for Governor Hogan to pretend the state has no role in these issues other than being a cheerleader for everything local governments do and then paying for many of the aftereffects. This is especially the case in our state which continues to grow, is the fifth most densely populated in the United States, and needs to continue to improve the Chesapeake Bay, save farm and forest land and nurture or revitalize our existing communities.

It is for these reasons that Maryland is usually a leader in smart growth. As recently as early 2015, the Maryland Department of Planning won the prestigious national award from the American Planning Association (a 35,000 member professional organization) for being the best planning department in the country. A couple years before that they awarded Gov. Martin O’Malley a leadership award. What a difference a few years make! The agency has been told to “get off the backs of local government” and conducted a large digital book burning of almost all its research and technical assistance documents. Smart growth should be a partnership between state and local governments and other stakeholders. But a partnership should not mean the Hogan administration should abdicate its responsibilities. In many ways, state and local governments have different roles in planning and zoning issues. I worked for local governments before and after working for the Maryland Department of Planning and I can tell you first hand they have the very tough job of addressing most of these issues at the ground level. However, there is also a need for the state to partner. Unfortunately, political rhetoric gets in the way at times.

For all the hot air about the evils of PlanMaryland, I have yet to seem any harm done by it. While I am a big fan of many local governments’ planning efforts, one still does not have to look very hard to see the damage done by poorly planned development. The Sun is naive in its point about giving Mr. Hogan the benefit of the doubt regarding his smart growth efforts. As Maya Angelou said: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

In this 20th anniversary year of the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Act, I encourage all Marylanders to find ways to get involved, speak up and otherwise advocate for actions and policies that build up our communities, preserve our environment, and restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Richard Eberhart Hall, Baltimore

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