- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2011

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is asking the O’Malley administration to delay implementing its statewide initiative on land development until the start of the 2012 General Assembly so his chamber can review the plan.

Mr. Miller, Prince George’s Democrat, has asked the Maryland Department of Planning to hold off implementing PlanMaryland in response to Senate Republicans.

They argue that the plan, which is designed to limit sprawl and protect the environment by encouraging compact development in existing population centers, will instead stifle rural development and allow the state to intrude upon existing county-planning procedures.

“I believe this will be very helpful to members’ understanding of what is being proposed and will allow for additional input on this issue,” Mr. Miller wrote in the Oct. 25 letter that also asks the agency to meet in January with the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Committee Chairwoman Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat, said Friday the briefing will be held Jan. 12, on the second day of the General Assembly’s regular session.

State law allows the governor and planning officials to approve a statewide growth plan without the Assembly’s approval. PlanMaryland’s six-month public comment period ends Wednesday.

Most criticism of the plan has come from rural state- and county-level Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican. He plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming session that would allow the Assembly to vote on planning initiatives.

Critics also argue that the plan will steer development and jobs to more populous areas such as Baltimore and suburban Washington. And rural counties, they say, will have a more difficult time building infrastructure, attracting development and keeping construction-related jobs as a result of the plan.

“They’re afraid that the facts are going to come out, that this is indeed a state land grab,” Mr. Pipkin said.

Planning officials contend that PlanMaryland is simply a set of guidelines, not mandates, and will not allow the state to change or overrule local planning policies.

Agency spokesman Andrew Ratner said Friday the plan does not require legislators’ approval, but it is largely based on 12 planning concepts the General Assembly approved in 2009.

Mr. Ratner said agency officials will meet with the Senate committee but they intends to keep their timeline of finalizing PlanMaryland in the coming weeks and submitting the plan to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, later this year.

Mr. Ratner said the governor could approve the plan before the Senate briefing is held, but that its implementation is still months away and that any Senate input “would be considered as implementation goes forward.”

Mr. Pipkin disagreed with the assertion and said the agency should not finalize PlanMaryland until all sides are heard.

“If this plan doesn’t have anything to hide, why can’t they wait 10 weeks to get it right?” he asked. “This is the height of bureaucratic arrogance we’re seeing here.”

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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