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Proposal for statewide development controls gets mixed review in Carroll

Maryland Secretary of Planning Richard Hall and fellow officials from the Maryland Department of Planning anticipated some skepticism when they came to Carroll Community College on July 28 to roll out Plan Maryland, a proposed state-wide development plan.

"This is something the state has never done before," said Rich Josephson, state director of planning services.

"Judging from the experiences we've had across the state, we understand why," he said. "But we feel it is something that is needed."

The objective of Plan Maryland, according to a Web site devoted to the plan, is to create a more effective and efficient process for coordinating statewide planning and development in future decades.

A large part of this process includes coordinating the efforts of local governments and the various state agencies involved in land-use decisions

At the July 28 meeting, attended by about 200 county residents — though none of the five county commissioners or county planning officials were among them — Hall gave a presentation making the case for why a statewide plan is needed.

Maryland, he said, is already the ninth most densely populated state in America. By 2030, the state will have gained a million more residents, more than 500,000 new homes and more than 500,000 new jobs.

Hall said if current development patterns are allowed to continue, 560,000 acres — roughly equivalent to the size of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties combined, will be converted from farmland and open spaces to residential sprawl in the next two to two and a half decades.

Tapping an old axiom, he said, "A failure to plan is a plan to fail."

Plan Maryland, as currently drafted, attempts to reduce this loss acreage to about 100,000 acres by concentrating development in towns, cities and rural population centers where infrastructure is already in place to support it. Doing so, Hall said, would also protect environmentally sensitive areas and preserve farmland and open spaces.

Hall noted that the state has had the statutory power to implement its own growth and development plan for years, but has never sought to use that power ... until now.

Yet he insisted — in the face of some skepticism — that "this is not a regulatory plan. It's not going to change one (local zoning or land use) regulation. It sets up a process that coordinates efforts of state agencies working with local municipalities."

Hall said such a process is sorely needed.

More than a half-dozen different state agencies are involved in the planning process and don't always do the best job of communicating and coordinating their efforts, he said, either among themselves or with the 110 county and municipal governments across the state with local planning and zoning authority.

Resistance is feudal?

One of the reasons Hall and his planning team journeyed to Carroll County was to get public feedback.

And they got an earful.

The public comment period of the two-hour meeting was supposed to run from about 7:30 p.m. until 9 p.m., but at 9:45 p.m. residents were still weighing in. Opinions expressed ranged from mild enthusiasm to vehement opposition.

A few residents tried to make the case that any form of land use regulation is an infringement on individual property rights or, even worse, a form of "Marxism" or "feudalism."

Hall reminded attendees that Carroll County has had some form of zoning regulations in place since at least the 1950s.

Still, a few residents even insisted Plan Maryland was part of an international, NATO- or United Nations-led conspiracy to undermine the nation. More than one resident said the state should simply butt out and leave planning and development to the counties.

Yet in response, community activist Don West, of Westminster, spoke up, saying, "I'm not an advocate for this plan, but (having) some kind of plan is important."

West noted that the county hasn't updated its own master plan in more than a decade, and that the Pathways plan — an attempt to create a new land-use and facilities plan for the county — was killed last year before being completed.

"Where is our county plan?" West said to the audience. "We're still working with the 2000 (master) plan. Pathways was shut down. 'Son of Pathways' was shut down. I challenge everyone to come up with a local plan."

More than once, Hall reminded the skeptics that Plan Maryland is still in the draft stages.

"We are hearing the good and bad things people are saying," he said, "and we are willing to make modifications."

Plan Maryland and related maps and documents can be accessed on line at Plan.Maryland.gov and Planning.Maryland.gov. Residents can also post comments about the plan and read other public comments via the site.

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