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Maryland To Offer Preferential Funding For Smart Growth

Communities divided on PlanMaryland

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PlanMaryland is intended to reduce urban sprawl -- defined by single-use, low density zoning that necessitates the use of automobiles.
PlanMaryland is intended to reduce urban sprawl -- defined by single-use, low density zoning that necessitates the use of automobiles.

The rate of land consumption in Maryland is three times the rate of population growth, according to the state's department of planning. That's a lot of urban sprawl for a small state. Governor Martin O'Malley issued an executive order for a strategy called PlanMaryland, which is designed to limit sprawl, but it's set up tensions around the state.

"This is America, we don't do centralized top down planning," says Rich Rothschild, a county commissioner in rural Carroll County, Md of PlanMaryland. "That resembles the actions of a dictatorship more than a constitutional republic."

PlanMaryland asks local governments to make their growth strategies "smarter" -- denser, and less sprawling. And it requires state agencies to preferentially fund smart growth. So when it comes to all the things the state helps with -- public roads, utilities, transit -- money won't go to a project that the state thinks promotes sprawl. 

State law clearly puts local authorities in charge of zoning, but PlanMaryland still makes some local authorities nervous. There's also somewhat of a split between rural and urban counties. Roland Stanley is in charge of planning for Montgomery County. He doesn't view PlanMaryland as a threat because his county is largely already in line with smart growth policies.

"The real impact is when there's money available and we have projects like the Purple Line etcetera, where we want to apply for state funding, it will help," says Stanley.

But Rothschild, over in Carroll County, fears that impact will be at the expense of rural counties: "Will it hurt some of these areas? Yes, it will paralyze some of them."

Andy Ratner, with the Maryland Department of Planning, sharply disagrees: "We want growth throughout the state. Just to be smarter that we're not just plowing under farmland and forests for more and more development that has to be supported by new public infrastructure."

Every county has areas where growth can be concentrated, and he says sprawl costs everyone. Why build a million dollar sewer line to service 100 people when it could service 1000, even in a rural county?

PlanMaryland is set to become reality-Maryland in eight months.


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