Urging A Plan for Growth

O'Malley officials are worried about effects of growth.
O'Malley officials are worried about effects of growth. (Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
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By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 5, 2008

For more than 30 years, Maryland has had a law on the books requiring officials to write a plan describing how the state should grow and develop. But with most land-use decisions made locally, and with little public pressure to create a wider vision for Maryland, no one sat down to write it.

This year, that could change.

The administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), concerned about the potential effect of unchecked growth on the water supply, greenhouse gases and the Chesapeake Bay, has been quietly setting the stage for the creation of a statewide plan to guide development.

If officials succeed, Maryland will become one of a handful of states to knit together ideas from traditionally feuding factions and create a blueprint for what the state should look like two decades from now.

"One of the problems we have had in Maryland is getting the growth to go where we want it to go," said Richard Eberhart Hall, the state's planning chief. "Just because we have mapped smart-growth areas and identified them doesn't mean there is as much growth there as we would like to see."

For example, planners would like to see growth along sections of the Interstate 95 corridor between Washington and Baltimore where there are train and bus connections to the two cities but development has been slow. Similarly, in Montgomery County, development along Metro's Red Line has lagged behind what has occurred along Metro lines in parts of Northern Virginia such as Arlington's Ballston neighborhood.

Hall said the purpose of a state plan is not to dictate local development from Annapolis but to establish guiding principles that discourage sprawl and promote clusters of development near transit, water supplies, schools and other amenities.

"There are some groups that are sensitive about a big plan that pays no attention to what they are doing and tells them what they should be doing," said Hall, a career planner appointed by O'Malley to the state post last year.

"That's not our intention. We want to articulate state policy, how it manifests itself on the landscape and how it all comes together," he said.

That may assuage groups such as the Maryland Association of Counties, whose members exert substantial influence over land use.

"Traditionally in Maryland, local land-use decisions have been made at the local level," said Les Knapp, a lobbyist for the organization. "That's not to say we don't want a state plan, we just don't want one that usurps our authority."

The surge in gas prices this year, now more than $4 a gallon and rising, may be just what the planners need to gain support for their efforts. Within a matter of weeks, the market has presented immediate and painful financial incentives for residents and developers to combat suburban sprawl.

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