Forum led by Carroll County debates state's PlanMaryland proposal

A panel of experts on environmental and growth issues offered criticism Monday of Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed statewide smart-growth strategy at an Oct. 31 forum — organized by Carroll County and attended by more than 100 people from some of the most rural parts of the state.

Speakers accused state officials of inflating statistics and muddying facts to better make a case for PlanMaryland, a proposal which would designate targeted growth areas in Maryland.

George Frigon, an environmental consultant and wasterwater treatment expert, criticized PlanMaryland for what he said was a false assumption that "people who live on two acres poop more than people who live in apartments."

"What we're dealing with are assumptions and not calculations that are based on any research of the data," he said at the forum held in Pikesville. "Now that bothered me."

State officials say PlanMaryland, which limits state funds for development that does not fall within the guidelines for preventing sprawl, will save about $1.5 billion annually in infrastructure costs.

But some politicians from some areas say the plan will hurt local economies and dilute the power of localities to make decisions on planning and zoning issues.

Richard Hall, the state secretary of the Department of Planning, attended the forum and said some of the criticism seemed based more on idealogy and politics.

"It's a real mistake to view PlanMaryland as some sort of attack or criticism of local govenrments," said Hall. "PlanMaryland's not about trying to take away local land-use authority."

"I didn't come here to debate climate change … " he said. "I'm sure people can find something in the plan [such as] data errors. We're willing to see if it's a math issue, or a policy debate masking itself as a math issue."

Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who organized the forum and said the state plan was based on an "United Nations, globalist agenda," told the audience that PlanMaryland "basically constitutes theft of the property rights established in the Constitution."

"I think from a factual standpoint, we clearly demonstrated that there were flawed premises," said Rothschild of the forum. "Now, the question is, how will the political side play out?"

He said about 19 counties were represented at the forum. Carroll County spent about $10,000 to finance the forum, and another $7,000 was raised in donations. He dismissed concerns about the use of county funds for such an event.

"I don't hear anyone in the press asking Martin O'Malley how much he spent preparing and marketing the plan. I assure you it's probably over a million dollars."

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin plans to introduce a bill in January that would require General Assembly approval of PlanMaryland.

Frederick County Del. Kathy Afzali, who recently called on local leaders to opt out of the plan in a form of protest, said the plan is about politics.

"The governor's seeking higher office, so he should really think about attacking the state's rural areas," said Afzali, a Republican. "Honestly, how's this going to play at the Iowa Caucus?"

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