The Baltimore County Council will soon consider and adopt its Master Plan 2030, finalizing a process that has been delayed three years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The county began soliciting community input on the plan at meetings in the fall of 2021. Public comment ended April 14, though people can still send in feedback until Wednesday, May 17, at 12 p.m.
Every 10 years, Baltimore County considers how and where development should progress for the next decade with a emphasis on equity, sustainability and “livable communities.” The master plan is the end result of that process.
The plan, which the county released a draft of last month, recommends where housing, transportation and infrastructure should be built to connect communities. There also is emphasis on preserving open green space and “retrofitting” older developments for new uses.
The process is different from the comprehensive zoning map planning process, which takes place every four years, and allows residents to request zoning changes for properties throughout the county.
However, the draft master plan recommends that the county shift its zoning map process from every four years to every ten.
“The Master Plan 2030 establishes a vision and sets important priorities for our rapidly growing, diverse communities and maps out a better, more equitable and more sustainable Baltimore County,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement. “[I] am confident the final plan will reflect the vision and needs of everyone who lives, works and visits Baltimore County.”
Renee Hamidi, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, a land-use and preservation nonprofit, said she was concerned the draft plan didn’t mention whether the urban-rural demarcation line, or “URDL,” which limits development in rural areas, would be respected, nor how the Master Plan would be implemented once the council approves it.
At the current rate of development, the county will run out of developable land inside the URDL in 20 years, according to the 2030 Master Plan draft.
“I’m not sure of anywhere in the plan it says the [URDL] will never be touched,” Hamidi said. “We call it death by a thousand cuts. You [develop] a little bit here, a little there, and that’s dangerous for rural areas.”
County spokeswoman Erica Palmisano said the county would focus on redeveloping, or “retrofitting” already developed areas within the URDL.
“There are no plans to move the URDL or advocate for such a thing,” she said.
The Morning Sun
In addition, while there’s no enforcement mechanism requiring the county to follow the Master Plan, the county intends “to build in an implementation section so that progress on the goals and actions can be tracked,” Palmisano said.
Nick Stewart and Pat Keller, founders of We The People Baltimore County, a community group that advocates for transparency in land use development, criticized the county’s “ad-hoc” approach to development and disregard for previous master plans.
“Right now, there are these different fiefdoms” where the council approves development via councilmanic courtesy, said Stewart, a Catonsville lawyer, referring to when councilmembers follow the wishes of a council member whose district is affected by a planning project.
He also pointed out community pushback against affordable housing as an example of the county’s failure to adhere to its own master plans.
But he and Keller were heartened that the 2030 plan included census data showing how the county’s population and demographics have shifted in the last decade, as well as a recommendation to “resequence” the process so the master plan would be completed before more area-specific processes, like adopted community plans and the comprehensive zoning process.
“If you’re going to plan [to build a building], then the next step is zone it appropriately,” Keller said, “[and then plan for] roads, streets, parks and schools. It’s a logical series that should take place.”
The Baltimore County Planning Board will hold a meeting Thursday to allow residents to testify about the Master Plan before the County Council discusses it at its June 1 meeting. The council will vote to approve the Master Plan on June 15.