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PlanMaryland: It’s a Name You’re Going to Be Hearing

Here’s what all the fuss is about

Read any good plans lately?    
    Maryland’s state plan has no suspense, sex, violence or drugs, not even any characters.
    Yet PlanMaryland, which Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proclaimed by executive order last month, is becoming notorious.
    The 11-page document has a web page, a Facebook page with nearly 500 likes and a game you can play.
    PlanMaryland was four years in the making and a half-century in the asking. Fifty years ago, the Maryland legislature first suggested our state needed a plan, instead of happenstance, to direct its future.
    Finally finished, it’s won O’Malley the Planning Advocate of the Year award from Planning Magazine.
    The cheering would be thunderous — if anybody but wonks read plans.
    How far into the plot have you gotten?
    Better look into it, because PlanMaryland is such a byword nowadays you’d think it was an Oprah’s recommended read or on The New York Times’ bestseller list. It’s a name you’re going to be hearing.
    As the name suggests, it’s going to “emphasize planning that encourages us to be more efficient and less wasteful of valuable resources. It will require that we acknowledge limits to growth and development, be more mindful of costs and benefits and assist us in making the necessary trade-offs to balance between growth, development and the protection of valuable natural, cultural and historic resources.”
    To achieve those goals, PlanMaryland is going to request — no, demand is the truer word — a “new level of accountability from state agencies and local governments.”
    How does that strike you? Does it sound like a thoughtful approach to sharing our fast-shrinking space and conserving our precious resources?
    That’s the plan, according to PlanMaryland, and it’s none too soon.
    Here’s why:

    •    It took three centuries to develop the first 650,000 acres in Maryland ... and 37 years to develop the next one million.
    •    By 2035, Maryland is expected to have one million more residents, 500,000 new homes and 600,000 new jobs. Where will they go?
    •    New homes on septic systems will account for one-quarter of housing growth but three-quarters of nitrogen pollution into Chesapeake Bay over the next 25 years.
    If you think Smart Growth sounds smart … and saving the Bay is your individual responsibility … that the biggest is not necessarily the best … or that we’re using up all the resources God and nature gave us … then PlanMaryland probably sounds pretty good to you.
    Yet it strikes terror in many other hearts.
    If your dearest beliefs are individual liberties and property rights, PlanMaryland sounds a clear and present danger.
    When you, reader, hear about PlanMaryland, the boos may drown out the cheers because its opponents have made it their talking point.
    Eastern Shore Sen. E.J. Pipkin claims the plan is part of O’Malley’s “war on rural Maryland.”
    “PlanMaryland will destroy local government’s authority to plan land use and the property rights of those who live in rural Maryland,” he says.
    Republicans — and some Democrats from rural Maryland — have taken up the charge.
    “It’s an all-out attack on property rights,” Calvert Republican Del. Mark Fisher said this week. “You’ll have people walking onto your property telling what you can and can’t do. You’ll essentially have to know somebody in Annapolis to get anything done.”
    “It’s going to cripple Calvert County,” county commissioner Susan Shaw said.
    How many people have you heard on the other side, singing the praises of PlanMaryland?
    Unless you were one of the thousands of people who helped shape PlanMaryland at public meetings and in online surveys, probably not many.
    Liking a plan, on Facebook or in the real world, doesn’t mean you get excited about it. Plans are by definition written in abstract terms. So it’s harder to find a way to talk about the good it can do than the evil you fear it will do.
    Senate President Mike Miller, a Calvert Democrat, defended the plan as making sure “growth is not haphazard.” But he allowed “we’ll have more public hearings to fine tune it before it goes into place.”
    For a change, Del. Tony O’Donnell, said the Senate president was on the right course. “I think we’re going to work on a bipartisan basis to scale it back,” the Southern Maryland House minority leader said.
    In this week’s feature story, we look at a few prefiled bills that will try to clip PlanMaryland’s wings before it can lift the state’s future.
    PlanMaryland is going to be a big deal. It’s being talked about, and it’s going to be acted on.
    I thought you’d want to know what all the fuss is about.
    Because what happens to PlanMaryland happens to you, me and us all.
    Find PlanMaryland at plan.maryland.gov/home.shtml.