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Editorial: It’s time for a plan

If you don’t plan development, it will plan itself. But the result may not look very planned at all. It will likely look more like a hodgepodge of this and that, quite possibly gobbling up more land than necessary and burdening governments with costly new infrastructure.

Maryland is on a growth pace that presents a host of challenges for our future. In the 2010 census, we emerged as the fifth-most-densely populated state with 594.8 residents per square mile. In the 2000 census, we were the sixth-most-densely populated state with 529.1 residents per square mile. The state’s population increased by nearly half a million between 2000 and 2010 to 5.8 million.

There are other warning signs beyond growth and density.

“The need for a state growth plan is made evident by the latest analysis,” said state Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall. “The data shows that Maryland has now developed more than 1.6 million acres, or about 27 percent of the total land area, in total.”

As Tony Russo reported in a recent article from, “Over the last decade, developed lands have outpaced population growth by 300 percent and the number of new homes developed is twice the number of people who have moved into Maryland to occupy them. According to state planners, those homes are on much more acreage than is wise or necessary.”

Now comes Gov. Martin O’Malley with a notion that something needs to be done at the state level to address these trends. Actually, it’s much more than a notion. It’s called PlanMaryland, it’s been in the works for three years and a draft has been available for public comment since April 28.

But as the plan has begun to take shape, there has been pushback from local governments. At the Maryland Association of Counties convention a couple of weeks ago, the governor got an earful from county officials who want more time to review the plan, which they fear will give the state too much say in local land-use decisions.

Last week, the Maryland Department of Planning announced an additional 60 days of comment and review for the plan. A revised version of the draft will be issued Sept. 7 and the review period will last through Nov. 7.

We believe it is a constructive move in good faith for the state to allow more time for local input. Local governments take their land-use prerogatives very seriously, as well they should, and the state’s role in affecting these decisions needs to be considered very carefully.

But we also believe there is a proper role for the state to play in controlling sprawl, because there is a larger issue here.

Secretary Hall put it well when he said, “If our children and grandchildren ask 30 years from now who paid attention to the health of our land, water and communities, we want to be able to answer, ‘We did.’”

One comment

  1. Not all of Maryland is on a “growth pace” as you put it and this is why PlanMaryland presents challenges. A one-size-fits-all plan will not work, especially for the rural counties that have experienced declining population. There are areas in the state that are desperate for economic growth and PlanMaryland, as it is currently written, will inhibit economic opportunities for these counties. You also mentioned that Maryland is the fifth most-densely populated state. Again, this is only true in the metro areas and does not apply to our rural counties. PlanMaryland uses population density as criteria for Priority Funding Areas which also inhibits economic growth in the counties that need it most. I’m not saying that a statewide development plan is not possible but the current version of PlanMaryland will have negative consequences on many counties in the state.