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State of Sprawl
Maryland's answer to smart growth, pending approval.
Suburban sprawl outside Washington D.C.
Courtesy La Citta Vita/Flickr

With nearly one million new residents projected in the state by 2030, Maryland has drafted a plan to rein in the costs of rampant sprawl and promote smart growth principles, targeting development around existing infrastructure in cities and towns rather than on new land on the suburban fringe. Following a 120-day review that ended September 1, some county governments are pushing to delay final approval of the plan another 60 days, citing a need for further review.

The state’s Department of Planning was authorized to create the strategic development plan in 1974, authorized but not executed. The state hopes PlanMaryland could save up to $1.5 billion a year in infrastructure costs—schools, road construction and maintenance, utility work—that are exacerbated by sprawling low-density development. The document is not a mandate, however. “PlanMaryland lays out a process for working with local governments,” said Andrew Ratner, communications director at the Maryland Department of Planning. “It lets local governments know where we stand on smart growth.” While the document itself has no teeth, Maryland can impact development by withholding state funds from inappropriate projects, and considering the array of projects eligible for state funding, this could be bite enough.

Opponents to PlanMaryland cite excessive state government control of the planning process and potential loss of property rights. Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve told the Baltimore Sun, the governor is “basically saying, 'The county doesn't know how to run their business, and the state's going to show you how to do it.’”

A revised draft was issued in mid-September incorporating comments from the first review as well as input from over 3,000 residents and stakeholders gathered over the past three years. Despite the approval delay, Ratner said the department plans to submit PlanMaryland to Governor Martin O’Malley in late fall. The current delay leaves some non-plussed as the review period has already taken place. Ratner commented: “The longer you delay, the further behind you are.” Other local governments have already endorsed PlanMaryland, including Baltimore County and Montgomery County near Washington, D.C., both proven smart growth leaders.

Besides saving money, the plan is also expected to reduce pollution by decreasing driving distances and to increase the quality of life of Maryland residents through walkable communities. “We want the counties to be partners in this,” Ratner said. “The deck has been stacked in favor of sprawl for a long time.”

Branden Klayko