Time to speak out on county growth

The Baltimore Sun

County officials are encouraging residents to submit comments on a draft of the General Development Plan, the final version of which is to be completed later this year.

The land-use plan, which is required by the state, is revised every decade. The plan is meant to serve as a guide for county growth and development during next 10 to 20 years.

The more than 200-page draft addresses several topics, including land use and development policy, priority preservation areas, transportation and water resources. The draft plan also includes a schedule for implementing the recommendations.

The County Council must approve the updates to the plan before they can go into effect. In the meantime, the county is soliciting comment from the public during the next few weeks before a second draft is to go before the council.

"This is the central document by which the county will grow in the next 20 years," said County Executive John R. Leopold. "This General Development Plan will provide a blueprint to guide growth in a responsible manner."

Some have expressed concern, however, that the draft is dense and that residents may not have enough time to figure it out before the public forums are held.

"They're concerned that they're not having enough time to review the documents," 6th District Councilman Joshua Cohen said of some constituents.

"It's a little frustrating how limited the public input process is, at least right now."

The first of the public forums is being held tomorrow. The draft plan was released Tuesday.

The county has had a development plan since 1968, and it has been updated about every 10 years since then. In addition to land-use policies and guidelines, the plan addresses land preservation, resource protection and infrastructure.

Since the last update to the plan in 1997, the state's General Assembly has enacted legislation that created new requirements for the plan, according to the county. All local governments much now include a Water Resources Plan element, to give an assessment of the impact of land-use plans on water resources, including wastewater supply capacity and tributaries.

Counties with certified agricultural land preservation programs, including Anne Arundel, are now required to designate in their plans "priority preservation areas" to streamline state and local funds used for agricultural preservation.

Last year, the county took comments from the public to get an idea of what different communities envisioned for the county.

The plan's draft also includes a section that discusses the "overarching priorities" of the "community visions:" balanced growth and sustainability, community preservation and enhancement, environmental stewardship and quality of public services.

Some residents have already expressed concern over possible changes the plan could bring. Fifth District Councilwoman Cathleen Vitale said that some of her constituents have opposed suburbanizing Broadneck, an area that she said is "considered a bit rural."

"We still have our agriculture, our farms and our equestrian centers," Vitale said.

Residents can view the draft at www.aacounty.org. There, citizens can also sign up to the "GDP 2008 E-Mail List" and receive updates.

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