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O’Malley’s land-use plan to move forward

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration will move forward with Maryland’s first statewide land-use plan despite calls from opponents on Monday to slow the process or scrap it altogether.

“This is an issue between the legislative branch and the executive branch,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, during a briefing on the plan. “What you have here is the executive branch acting as witness, judge and jury.”

Pipkin said O’Malley should put the plan, dubbed PlanMaryland, into a bill and submit it to the General Assembly for review.

O’Malley, however, plans to enact the plan through an executive order, as called for by the 1974 law that directed the Department of Planning to craft the land-use strategy.

Raquel Guillory, the governor’s spokeswoman, said O’Malley has “no intention” of acquiescing to Pipkin’s call for a bill.

The plan could be on the governor’s desk as soon as Monday, Guillory said, and Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall said his department would begin implementing it next year.

That, however, does not mean the General Assembly has seen the last of the issue.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said “We know we’ll be back” as legislators seek to limit the governor’s power to enact the plan.

Hall likened PlanMaryland to the game plan a football team takes into each game.

“We’ve been on this ball field for decades without a game plan,” he said.

PlanMaryland would coordinate programs at state agencies and target funding for roads, sewers, water lines and other infrastructure toward areas designated for growth, rather than trying to keep pace with new subdivisions sprawling into undeveloped farmland.

The effort has drawn sharp criticism from some lawmakers, chiefly Republicans and those from rural districts.

Conway’s committee held a briefing on the issue Monday largely to allow their concerns to be voiced.

“We are concerned by the usurpation of local land-use authority,” said Blaine R. Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners.

Many echoed Young’s statement. When disagreements arise over which areas to designate for growth in PlanMaryland, the state would have the ultimate say, according to the draft discussed Monday.

Hall said the department is still working on the language in that section of the report, but added that the arrangement exists already.

PlanMaryland doesn’t create laws or change existing ones, nor does it take property rights from individuals or zoning power from local governments, Hall said.

“Our leverage is limited,” he said. “This is all about existing state programs.”

Said Conway: “You can’t do anything with this plan unless it’s [already] under state law.”

PlanMaryland supporters said the effort will protect the state’s open spaces and waterways and save taxpayer dollars by focusing programs on already developed areas.

“It seems to me we need it not only for environmental reasons, but financially, fiscally as well,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.

Others, however, criticized the state’s outreach and the planning department’s effort to educate the public on the plan.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick and Washington, called the plan “a rehash” of the state’s existing growth principles “that stirred up a hornet’s nest.”

“I think this has been a PR debacle,” said Young, the father of Frederick County’s Blaine Young. “This has put the governor in a position where he loses no matter what happens.”

Senate Minority Whip Edward R. Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, said the abundance of assumptions about the plan that state officials have called wrongheaded should “lead us to assume that we haven’t done a good job of educating people.”

Public forums on PlanMaryland began in 2008, and 3,000 people attended, according to Hall. The planning department also collected 1,500 responses to an online survey, 300 written comments on two drafts of the land-use plan, and held about 100 meetings with others who would be affected.

“As underwhelming as this may sound, we’re just trying to knit together things that we work with local governments on every day,” said Hall.