Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gov. O'Malley Says PlanMaryland Stops Subsidies for "Stupid Decisions" // MoCo Planning Board's Casey Anderson Explains

Maryland Juice has periodically discussed Governor Martin O'Malley's smart growth initiative PlanMaryland. Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson today provides readers with some information about the new land use guidelines. Conservative lawmakers have attacked the plan, but Gov. O'Malley adopted it as an Executive Order over their objections. The Baltimore Sun reported last month:
The plan has been decried by conservative county officials and Republican legislators as a usurpation of local power over land use, but O'Malley defended it Monday as a framework for making wise decisions about where the state should invest in capital projects....

O'Malley said the plan will not dictate local land-use policies but will guide state spending, steering money away from projects that promote sprawling development.

"The state's not going to be a part of those stupid decisions, and we're not going to be subsidizing stupid decisions — pardon me — unsustainable decisions," O'Malley said....
The plan seeks to discourage the spread of what it calls "large lot development areas" — subdivisions that are typically built with septic systems rather than with public water and sewer. The policy explicitly seeks to discourage the spread of such developments by minimizing funding for programs that fuel such growth.
Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson provided the following additional explanation of PlanMaryland:
The most important thing for anyone who lives in Montgomery County to understand about Plan Maryland is that if the surrounding jurisdictions are allowed to do whatever they want, the resulting sprawl will clog up our roads (because many of the people who move there will be commuting to jobs here or travel through MoCo on their way to DC).  It also will increase the amount of water pollution from runoff (because of increased amounts of impervious surface when new roads and parking lots are built, etc.) which limits our ability to grow, because the total amount of pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay is subject to increasingly tight restrictions.  
In other words, if Frederick's development ends up polluting our watershed, then development in Montgomery will be more expensive and difficult because we will be required to pay for additional water quality mitigation in order to build anything.  
Here's a graphic that shows the Middle Potomac watershed -- as you can see, it includes Frederick and Montgomery counties, meaning that water pollution from Frederick flows to the Potomac both directly and through Montgomery on its way to the Chesapeake Bay:
Source: http://potomacriver.org/cms/sustainableflows/middlepotomac_elevation.jpg
For an explanation of total maximum daily loads for pollutants, see: www.mde.state.md.us/programs/Water (link shortened)

Remember, Plan Maryland does not attempt to impose any regulations on development -- it just establishes criteria for funding of state roads and other infrastructure.  So when Frederick and other counties say it's none of the state's business where or how they decide to allow development, they're basically saying they have the right to state money to subsidize the traffic congestion and pollution they inflict on their neighbors, and Montgomery County is the neighbor on the receiving end of the costs they externalize through sprawl.

In Montgomery County, on the other hand, we have adopted land use and transportation plans that are largely consistent with Plan Maryland and smart growth.  We're certainly not perfect, but the development we have planned would pass muster with Plan Maryland and therefore qualify for state support to finance roads, transit, etc., while discouraging our neighbors from dumping the costs of their development onto us.
Thank you for that explanation, Mr. Anderson. Maryland Juice also decided to explore exactly what Governor O'Malley meant when he said "we're not going to be subsidizing stupid decisions." Here are a few examples of land use projects he could have been talking about:

Example 1 (click for full article):: The Gazette reports that Frederick County Commissioners, led by Tea Partier Blaine Young, appear set to upzone 14,000 acres of farmland despite warnings from both the County Planning Commission and the State that it would produce sprawl. The Gazette article notes the following comment from Peter Conrad of the Maryland Department of Planning: “This may result in an over-supply of land for new development, which could lead to increased sprawl development, strains on existing infrastructure and inefficient use of land....”

The Frederick News-Post commented on Blaine Young's land use philosophy with the following December 28th editorial:
In benefiting a few, Young threatens to further enrage an electorate already suffering buyer's remorse from impaneling such a pro-construction majority. The Maryland Department of Planning is also scrutinizing how Frederick County makes land-use decisions. If they aren't congruent with PlanMaryland's smart growth policy, state funding for capital projects could get yanked.

It may not matter to Young, who has promised to serve only one term. But the impact of his actions in those four short years will continue to be felt long after he leaves office, as future boards wrestle over the ever-swinging pendulum in an attempt to bring the two sides of the growth debate back to an equilibrium.
Example 2 (click for full article): The Baltimore Sun reports on a similar plan in Anne Arundel County, but they have a County Executive who seems inclined to rein in their County Council: "Furious that the Anne Arundel County Council has approved zoning changes that will intensify development at several sites in the most rural areas of the county, residents are urging County Executive John R. Leopold to overturn the moves." Interestingly, the GOP is calling PlanMaryland a war on rural Maryland -- but these examples make it appear otherwise.

Example 3 (click for full article): And of course, the epitome of dumb growth: Terrapin Run -- a development project of more than 4,300 housing units in Allegheny County expressly aimed at buyers who would commute as much as 100 miles (!!!) to jobs in Montgomery County and DC.  This project apparently is not going anywhere because the developers are broke (not because they came to their senses). The Washington Post previously asked:
To what lengths will they go? How far are people willing to drive for the privilege of working in the metropolitan area while living in more affordable housing in a more rustic setting?

A hundred miles, one developer is betting.

Drive about 100 miles from the District and you could wind up south of Cambridge on the Eastern Shore, or north of York, Pa., or on Town Hill in picturesque Allegany County, what boosters call "the Mountain-Side of Maryland."

So Michael Carnock, principal of PDC Inc. of Columbia, has taken an option to pay $3 million for 935 acres of forested mountain valley land in eastern Allegany County that is two hours and many mountain ridges removed from Washington. He is negotiating to buy 400 acres more to complete the project.

The proposal has been highly controversial in Allegany County....
I hope these examples help highlight why it is sometimes environmentally questionable for those of us who live inside the Beltway to try and take rigid anti-growth positions. The decisions of area jurisdictions can have large impacts on neighboring communities. It only makes sense for Maryland to try and referee some of the most irresponsible decisions. As Gov. O'Malley stated, "we're not going to be subsidizing stupid decisions."

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