At a hearing in August, O’Malley summarized his view most succinctly: Homes built on two-acre plots with septic systems are sprawl; homes built within city limits on half-acre plots, and in range of sewer hookups, are not. The plan “is not a straitjacket for counties,” O’Malley said. “This is not a wall that prohibits counties from making stupid land-use decisions. They’re still free to do that, but we’re not going to subsidize it anymore.”
The governor maintains that if followed, the plan will reduce by more than $1.5 billion annually the amount the state spends on building roads to new developments, and willcut by hundreds of millions more the amount needed to expand and improve water and sewer systems.
O’Malley is hoping to succeed in codifying such a plan where several previous Democratic governors have failed. He is employing a little-known 1974 law to enact the plan without further hearings or action from the General Assembly, a tactic that has helped stir anger in the state’s rural reaches.
Richard E. Hall, O’Malley’s secretary of planning, emphasized that the plan has been in the works for more than three years and that the administration has extended its period for public comment. The administration has used that public input to shrink the 180-page document by half.
He called it unfortunate that critics have chosen to lump Plan Maryland in with ongoing negotiations over how to reduce septic systems that contribute a disproportionately large share of pollution to the ChesapeakeBay.
Key members of a task force, set up by the General Assembly and the governor after O’Malley’s septic proposal first fell short in the legislature this year, reported last week that to help pay for some of the governor’s proposed septic rules, the task force expects to recommend a doubling — and, eventually, a tripling — of the state’s $30 “flush tax.”
On a separate track, many rural lawmakers are also upset with a multi-state effort known as the Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP. A Maryland State Builders Association study contends that WIP will cost billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs.
“The [critics] have a narrative that they’ve developed — that all of these run together — but we’ve never had anything that ties them together,” Hall said. “For some who want to speak out against and tear down Maryland’s legacy of being a strong smart-growth state, that’s easy for them to do, even though Plan Maryland has been out there for years. It’s been a good punching bag.”
Hall said the administration is moving forward with plans for the governor to enact Plan Maryland next month. Several county executives have urged the governor to wait and let the legislature vote on the plan when it reconvenes in January. And at the meeting last week in Annapolis, Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick) urged a revolt by counties if O’Malley moves forward without legislative approval.
Democratic Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County farmer, countered that he thinks the governor’s heart is in the right place on Plan Maryland and that a buffer is needed between development and farmland. Buthe said he does not think the legislature is ready to accept O’Malley’s septic plan without major changes.
Many depend on rural residential development for their livelihood, he said. And it should not be up to the state to dictate where communities grow, Middleton said.
“A lot of mouths have to be fed with development,” he said. “You can’t put such a damper on these rural communities.”
The governor’s efforts also have galvanized the state’s tea party. Carroll County has put up thousands of dollars for a summit on Monday featuring internationally known climate-change skeptics andaimed at debunking some of the premises behind Plan Maryland.
“We thought it was worthwhile to get some credible speakers to come and take a look at some of those debatable trends and assumptions,” said Robin Bartlett Frazier, a member of the county’s Board of Commissioners. Also, she said, “there’s an element that has to do with following the Constitution, protecting property rights and free rights.”