State joins local officials to craft anti-sprawl plan -- Gazette.Net



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As Rockville’s director of community planning, Susan Swift says the state’s PlanMaryland isn’t going to usurp the city’s planning authority, as critics have predicted.

“What they’re trying to do is really for the state to prioritize its resources and coordinate them,’ Swift said. “The intent is not to usurp the local authority. That hasn’t changed.”

So far state officials have had 44 meetings with local governments as they try to iron out details of an effort to curtail sprawl and promote smart growth.

The meetings have led to 90 strategies, according to the first report to Gov. Martin O’Malley by the Department of Planning on the PlanMaryland initiative.

The 15 agencies represented in O’Malley’s Smart Growth Subcabinet are attempting to come up with ways to reduce infrastructure spending and conserve natural resources, according to state officials.

Some local governmental officials and Republican critics have asserted that O’Malley (D) was seeking to impose state control over local planning boards.

PlanMaryland supporters say the state is not telling counties what they can or cannot approve, but rather setting guidelines for which capital projects the state will fund, said Casey Anderson, a Silver Spring attorney and member of the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Counties such as Montgomery that have forward-thinking environmental and development policies will not be impacted by PlanMaryland, Anderson said.

“But it compels other jurisdictions that haven’t been as forward thinking to plan in a way that is consistent with the state’s environmental goals,” Anderson said.

According to the report, the Maryland Department of Budget and Management’s implementation of PlanMaryland would include coordination of the capital budgeting process to ensure state agencies include its goals when deciding where to locate a project and in training budget analysts on how to use its guidelines. Further meetings to help develop the strategies will be held.

For example, PlanMaryland would not prohibit Frederick County from approving a suburban development that would increase sprawl and environment-damaging runoff, but the state would not help fund the roads, water and sewer lines, Anderson said.

“Why should we pay for projects that will help Frederick County, but damage the [Potomac] watershed for the rest of us?” Anderson said. “The state should avoid subsidizing sprawl because that has an impact on us.”

State officials also said the meetings with county and municipal officials will continue so that different ideas can be voiced.

“Collaboration at the state and local level has been a cornerstone of PlanMaryland’s implementation,” said Richard Eberhart Hall, secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning.

cford@gazette.net