ANNAPOLIS—State lawmakers and officials from rural Maryland Thursday urged opponents of the governor’s statewide development plan to get organized on the local level and push back.
Opponents gathered in the concert wing of an Annapolis tavern to denounce PlanMaryland as a power grab against local authority that will hurt economic development in rural parts of the state.
They say Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration is moving too quickly to implement changes with huge implications across the state.
They also are speaking out against a separate proposal to double or triple the state’s “flush tax” on sewer bills to fight pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
“The idea that Annapolis knows all and can tell us exactly how to do this, and how we should live, and where we should live, and how much carbon we can produce and how much nitrogen we can produce, every now and then you have got to say: ‘Enough is enough,’” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, who has described the initiatives as “a war on rural Maryland.”
O’Malley, a Democrat, has pointed out that lawmakers decided in 1974 that the state needs a comprehensive statewide development plan to fight sprawl. Yet, Maryland still doesn’t have one, and O’Malley’s is still being worked out.
Rich Josephson from the Maryland Department of Planning underscored that O’Malley’s proposal doesn’t force local governments to do anything they don’t want, and there has been a total of 180 days for public comment.
“This plan has been in the works for the last three years,” said Josephson, director of planning service. “We’ve probably done more outreach on this than the department’s done on any other initiative that it’s undertaken.”
The governor is quick to note that Maryland has become the fifth most densely populated state in the nation when he has outlined the need for the plan. Without a comprehensive development plan, he said sprawl will threaten too much forest and agricultural land.
But the plan worries local officials, because they fear the state will make spending decisions on infrastructure based on how well counties follow the plan.
“There’s something terribly wrong to bring us from all over the state today at all levels of government and various interests groups coming together to say: ‘Hey, there’s something definitely wrong here.’ We need to work together to stop it,’” Pipkin said.
Washington County Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline and County Administrator Gregory B. Murray attended the meeting Thursday, Murray said.
The commissioners have also been invited to participate in another meeting about the plan scheduled for next week. That meeting will be held Monday in Carroll County to discuss that county’s reaction to the plan and changes it wants, Murray said.
The Maryland Department of Planning is developing the initiative and is accepting public comments on the draft until Nov. 9. The final version will be submitted to O’Malley by mid-November. The department released the first draft on April 28.
In August, the department announced an additional 60 days for review and public comment, but wary local officials have asked for at least a year.
David Craig, the Harford County executive, wrote state planning Secretary Richard Hall this week, asking that any implementation be deferred until after the 2012 session of the General Assembly, which ends in April.
“There are still many blanks that need to be filled in and unclear statements that need to be clarified, such as how various benchmarks are to be measured, or how they are to be achieved,” Craig wrote the secretary.
“The implementation of the plan will involve the discussion and collaboration with the locals,” Josephson said. “The plan can’t be implemented without talking to local governments.”
A report on wastewater disposal is due in December.
Staff Writer Heather Keels contributed to this story.