Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

State planning chief defends PlanMaryland

CAMBRIDGE — Maryland’s planning secretary stood by the state’s comprehensive growth plan Tuesday and said his department will move forward with it despite objections and calls for delay from opponents.

“We need to grow smarter than most other states in the country,” said Secretary Richard E. Hall after referencing Maryland’s population density, the fifth-highest in the nation. “That’s why the state does more than other states.”

Speaking at the Maryland Municipal League conference here at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina, Hall said the plan is not “being forced down the throats” of local governments.

But opponents have derided PlanMaryland as state bureaucrats overstepping their bounds to pre-empt county and city zoning authority by seeking to limit sprawl and concentrate population growth in already-developed areas.

Ed Braddy, executive director of the American Dream Coalition, a Gainesville, Fla.-based advocacy group for “freedom, mobility and affordable homeownership,” criticized the plan at a forum here Monday.

“It is unrepresentative of the people,” he said. “It uses inaccurate and skewed data, and it does not recognize tradeoffs. It will lead to a diminished quality of life that is neither smart nor inevitable.”

Braddy said that the plan puts too much emphasis on “smart growth” — building homes in contiguous areas with restaurants and shopping within walking distance and close to transit.

Based on Braddy’s calculations using guidelines presented in the report, he said that this could mean the plan calls for more than 16,000 people living per square mile. Currently, there are about 3,000 people living per square mile in Baltimore.

He said that the report also makes vehicles appear to be much too expensive and makes the benefits of mass transit seem much too great.

The plan cites a study by AAA of the costs of driving — about $8,600 per year — which Braddy said is only accurate for people leasing new cars and driving them 15,000 miles a year. People driving older cars at the average 11,000 miles that Marylanders drive each year, actually pay $2,566 to $5,300 per year to drive, he said.

Meanwhile, if people do not use public transportation, buses and light rail lines can create more pollution and cause more traffic congestion, Braddy said.

“This biased selection of data leads to flawed assertions and policies,” he said.

Hall, wearing a yellow tie printed with shotgun shells, defended his department’s plan Tuesday, saying, “We have confidence in what’s in there.”

Hall also brushed off calls for PlanMaryland to be shelved after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, asked the administration to delay implementation until a legislative committee could hold a hearing to review it.

“Is that letter going to be ignored by your department?” asked Bruce Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist who counts developers among his clients.

Hall said the plan will be sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley by the end of the month and, if approved, put into motion in 2012.

The state is required by law to have a growth plan but has failed to craft one in the 37 years since the law was enacted.

PlanMaryland is designed to limit sprawl by focusing state funding and attention on already-developed areas. Maryland is expected to gain 1 million new residents in the next 25 years.

If unchecked, that growth would lead to development of 550,000 acres of now open and green space, according to planning officials. The statewide plan is expected to hold development to an additional 180,000 acres.

Growth maps would be drawn starting in January, Hall said, and state agencies would start working PlanMaryland principles into decisions on which projects to support in the summer.

At Monday’s forum, Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild said the commissioners want the governor to write a new plan that strikes the correct balance and ensures local autonomy.

Rothschild, who opposes the current plan, said that he is optimistic, considering that Hall and other representatives from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration attended the program.

Similar concerns were voiced Tuesday from officials on the eastern side of the state.

“It’s a grand plan of one size fits all,” said Cambridge Commissioner Gage Thomas.

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R-Middle Shore, said PlanMaryland would lead to “a planning and zoning czar in Annapolis telling counties what they can or can’t do.”

“It’ll keep the Eastern Shore the way it is for the enjoyment of people from the Western Shore,” he said. “A 1974 law that needs to be implemented in four weeks, what’s the rush?”

Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com also contributed to this article.