Harford executive has concerns with PlanMaryland; Bel Air's mayor supports it

Harford County Executive David Craig said he has a number of concerns with Gov. Martin O'Malley's PlanMaryland land use regulation initiative, but one local official who was involved in putting the plan together is praising it.

Craig sent a letter to Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Richard Hall at the end of October criticizing PlanMaryland for not giving enough autonomy to local governments and asked for any implementation to be delayed until after the 2012 session of the General Assembly.

PlanMaryland maps out a vision for sustainable growth and land preservation by concentrating state resources on existing infrastructure, curbing sprawl and implementing other "Smart Growth" ideas, as Maryland is expected to get a million more residents in the next 20 years, more than 400,000 new households and 600,000 jobs.

The 60-day comment period on the revised draft was launched Nov. 9 and the final plan will be delivered to O'Malley on Nov. 30.

"I still have many concerns with the plan, foremost of which is that it still seeks to take important decisions regarding local planning out of the hands of local governments and into the hands of the state," Craig wrote in the letter to Hall.

He explained the plan leaves the final confirmation of place designations in the hands of the Smart Growth Subcabinet, and while local jurisdictions can nominate themselves for a designation, the plan does not establish criteria for the nomination.

The plan also does not address how various benchmarks are to be measured and how they should be achieved, he wrote.

"I take pride in the fact that Harford County has preserved over 47,000 acres of farmland to date, and we continue to work to preserve more," he wrote. "However, I would be very interested to see how the state hopes to be able to triple the amount of productive farmland in preservation by 2022. A noble goal to be sure, but at what cost?"

Craig, a Republican who is considering a run for governor in 2014, also brought up his concerns at a meeting with the Harford County legislative delegation Wednesday.

He told the county's delegates and senators that PlanMaryland takes local decision-making out of county hands and does not recognize many positive steps counties have taken over the last 40 years.

If the county were to go against the state's plan, "they are going to make things very difficult," Craig said, such as holding up the permit process.

Rural jurisdictions have been the major critics of the draft plan, and the Maryland Association of Counties had similar concerns as Craig.

In a Nov. 9 letter to the governor's office, MACo wrote that the plan should have clear protections for local land use autonomy, should be a collaborative effort and its implementation should be delayed until information like designation criteria and local responsibilities is filled in.

Bel Air Mayor Dave Carey, however, said the plan is reasonable and does not take any power away from the county or local jurisdictions.

Carey, a Democrat and past president of the Maryland Municipal League, has served on the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission, which helped assemble the plan.

He said anyone against the plan has not read it. A county is still free to promote sprawl under the plan, he said, but the state simply will not fund roads, schools and other facilities when that happens.

Carey made supportive comments about the plan at the same meeting with legislators Wednesday. During a work session with other Bel Air officials Tuesday, Carey said Harford County's development patterns of the last decade are a prime example of what PlanMaryland is trying to address.

Despite Harford's supposedly well defined development envelope where higher density housing and commercial growth is encouraged, Carey said "three times as many houses" have been built in the county outside the development envelope than inside in the past 10 years.

"Growth on septic systems has proliferated in Harford County," he said.

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