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Anne Arundel council approves new General Development Plan on 4-3 party-line vote

The Anne Arundel County Council approved the new General Development Plan Monday on a party-line vote after weeks of meetings and amendments shaped the document that will guide county development for two decades.

The 4-3 vote solidifies the document, often called the GDP, as county policy and future developments will look to this document for approval and guidance. The General Development Plan details goals and policies on various topics, including development, an equity statement, protecting green spaces, transportation and more for the next 20 years. It also provides an updated Land Use Map detailing how land is currently being used.

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The vote along party lines was an oddity following work on dozens of amendments on the bill, many of which were passed unanimously. Republican members of the council said they had concerns about the order of the work with the General Development Plan coming before the smaller plans.

The previous GDP did the smaller plans first, though those smaller plans in the mid-2000s have been criticized for never being used. Not every amendment was approved though, and members of both parties had changes defeated.

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They also raised concerns broadly about the plan, with Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, saying he doesn’t view it as a plan as written. Other members said their work on the document did not lock them into a final yes vote.

“It does not plan anything, it is a series of statements,” Volke said. “It doesn’t actually lay out a road map for anyone.”

Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, said she enjoyed working with her fellow council members and some of the amendments do improve the document, but there were still too many concerns.

“Everyone would have liked more time with it,” Haire said. “It was a tough vote.”

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Democratic members of the council said they were disappointed their colleagues voted against the bill after they worked together on it.

The County Council approving the GDP does not mean any zoning changes have occurred, but those will likely come as separate legislation often known as the Comprehensive Rezoning Legislation. Before that, the focus shifts toward the regional plans, essentially smaller planning documents that guide how development occurs in those neighborhoods. Each of those plans comes with meetings, debate and changes.

Monday’s vote was the final mark on a years-long process delayed and upended, like most things, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The county began work on the plan in 2017, sending a draft to the council in late 2020, past a state-mandated deadline.

Much of the work had already been done prior to the pandemic, and ultimately the county found ways to connect with residents. However, some have decried the focus on digital access as limiting some residents’ ability to participate.

One of the biggest changes brought about by the GDP is an updated version of the Planned Land Use Map. This map tells aspiring homebuilders and other developers where and how much of something they can build. If the land-use map says something is residential, it is often also zoned as such. This is where the designations like residential, mixed-use, commercial and others are applied to a broad map of the county.

County planning officials said the map within the GDP is a look at how the land is being used now and not an attempt to designate the land as something else. Updating the map does not change that area’s zoning; it has to be done as separate legislation. However, a land use designation map is referenced when considering zoning changes.

The newly approved land-use map states that about 32% of the county comprises rural land with low-density residential behind it at 17%. The next significant portion of land is conservation at about 13%.

While Anne Arundel has hundreds of miles of coastline along the Chesapeake Bay, only about .2% of the land is listed as maritime designation, according to the land-use map.

Shortly before the final vote, Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, asked county officials to assure residents the passage of the GDP did not immediately change their zoning nor does it lock them out of seeking zoning changes in the future.

County officials said the GDP would not make those changes.

With the GDP completed, the council now shifts its attention to Pittman’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget. The $1.87B budget includes additional spending, much of which was buoyed by improving revenue forecasts and stimulus money sent directly to governments and their residents. The council now will take its red pen to the budget over the course of several meetings.

The next budget meeting is at 1 p.m. Tuesday and will include a presentation on the county’s education funding. County meetings can be watched online via Arundel TV Live.

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