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Anne Arundel council discusses final amendments to Plan 2040 at Tuesday work session

The last work session on the 2020 General Development Plan Tuesday will likely cover some of the most controversial amendments on the document that will guide county development for the next two decades.

County Executive Steuart Pittman encouraged residents to watch the meeting, saying he expected some substantial debate.

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“Residents should really pay special attention, particularly to this next council meeting ...” Pittman said during a news conference last week. “We expect some of the most controversial amendments to the plan to come near the end of the process.”

The General Development Plan is a two-decade forward-looking document that details the county’s desires and plans for development. The plan itself does not change the zoning. That comes later with zoning legislation that follows the GDP and the connected regional plans. It is still a powerful tool that sets the county on a particular development path until its revision in another eight years.

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At the April 5 meeting, council members approved more than three dozen amendments, mostly agreeing on all of them, making designation changes to specific parcels while also approving technical corrections. At that same meeting, residents raised concerns about water access, equity, traffic and other issues within the GDP.

The council’s work session begins at 9 a.m. and can be watched online at aacounty.org, where the agenda is also available. Tuesday’s work session is the last before the April 19 council meeting in which the body is expected to adopt the last flurry of GDP amendments. The council will not vote to approve any items at its work session. The meetings are open to the public but don’t include public participation.

At the previous meeting, some residents raised concerns about proposed changes to a map that would make it harder to build amenities on county parks.

Of particular concern to Lisa Arrasmith, who chairs the independent Public Water Access Committee, is the proposal to mark most county parks under “conservation” rather than open space on the Land Use Plan Map. According to the county code, a conservation designation changes what is permitted on those sites.

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Arrasmith said that change would make it even harder to build up those locations with restrooms or other improvements so more people can access parks like portions of Beverly Triton Nature Park and Mayo Beach. The county also must make sure it is meeting required access as dictated for sites purchased using Program Open Space funding, she said.

It is already hard enough to build out there under the current zoning rules due to community pushback, she said. She is concerned it would make it harder to add even basic additions like park signs, gates, parking, a portable toilet and an unloading area near the water.

“It bakes the unimproved status quo into the code,” Arrasmith said.

Matt Johnston, county environmental policy director, said changes to The Land Use Plan Map within the GDP marks how the land is built at this time.

After the map is modified within the GDP, it will then be discussed and could be changed during the smaller regional plans, Johnston said. These are essentially smaller versions of the GDP that focus on particular areas of the county. There are expected to be nine plans that divide up the county into various regions. The county’s green spaces are also part of the Green Infrastructure Master Plan, which will serve as a more focused look at greenspaces and the corridors connecting them. That document would update the 2002 Greenways Master Plan.

The design of the region plans is to make it a more focused look at the area, and nothing in the General Development Plan precludes the county from pursuing amenities at those locations, Johnston said.

“That designation for our parkland reflects what is on the ground now,” Johnston said. “There will be a different engagement process that discusses the amenities that go on the ground in the future.”

Thornell Jones, an Arnold resident and physicist, said he hopes the county does more within its General Development Plan to improve water access to communities who traditionally have not had access, like Black county residents.

Jones, who is Black, said he still sees the same struggles Black youth deal with when he was a young man making his way and working for IBM computers.

While a section of the GDP details and equity statement, it reads more like “plain vanilla” without regard to the plight of Black residents in this county dating back to slavery, Jones said.

And no change at the county level will take hold without residents supporting those changes and understanding the needs for improvements, even along the peninsulas where some communities resist any increase in traffic, Jones said.

“It should be clear to everybody, there is nowhere to escape if you can’t escape to those parks,” Jones said.

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