- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Rural lawmakers and county officials are railing against a statewide-planning initiative by the O’Malley administration, saying the plan over-regulates and kills jobs in their communities.

The PlanMaryland initiative aims to limit sprawl and protect the environment by encouraging compact development in existing population centers and preserving wooded areas and natural resources. But critics argue the plan also would handcuff rural developers and intrude upon many counties’ existing planning processes.

“We’ll continue this fight as long as it takes to get the kind of fairness that rural parts of the state deserve,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican, who moderated a meeting Thursday in Annapolis among PlanMaryland opponents. “Every now and then, you’ve got to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ “

State law allows the Maryland Department of Planning to create its own statewide growth plan without legislative approval, and PlanMaryland is expected to be submitted for the governor’s approval after the public-comment period ends Nov. 9.

Though the plan only sets guidelines and does not supersede local planning or zoning authority, opponents argue it is another step in what Mr. Pipkin has called a “war on rural Maryland.”

They contend that the initiative’s focus on developing in high-population areas could steer lucrative development opportunities away from less populous counties and into such urban areas as Baltimore and suburban Washington.

They also say the state wants to create roadblocks for developers who want to build in rural areas that don’t have expansive transportation or sewage infrastructure, pointing to Gov. Martin O'Malley’s failed proposal this year to effectively ban septic tanks in most new, large-scale housing developments.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said the proposal would have helped drastically reduce Chesapeake Bay contamination, but rural Republicans argued it would stifle development in their districts. A committee is studying the proposal, and it could be resubmitted for the 2012 General Assembly session.

“We’re concerned about a sort of one-size-fits-all approach to many of these initiatives,” said Cynthia L. Jones, vice president of the St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners. “We’re afraid if things are implemented the way they are currently stated in the plan, then we’re going to lose the autonomy we have to maintain strategies that work.”

Sen. Joseph M. Getty, Carroll Republican, thinks PlanMaryland also contradicts what Mr. O'Malley and other officials have preached about the need to create jobs and encourage development.

“At the local level, it’s hard to find a job that’s not related to the building industry,” he said. “And now we’re going to make additional regulations to suppress the housing industry?”

Rich Josephson, MDP’s director of planning services, defended PlanMaryland on Thursday, saying critics have perhaps misread or failed to read the plan.

“It doesn’t mandate anything,” he said. “It doesn’t create any new regulations, and that’s very clearly articulated in the plan. Our goal is providing a very desirable, high quality of life for the people that are going to be here in 50 years. We think that if we continue to develop as we have in the past, we’re not going to be able to provide that legacy.”