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PlanMaryland: Maryland’s First Smart Growth Plan is Introduced to Mixed Reviews

Real Estate Law Update

On December 19, 2011 Governor Martin O’Malley introduced “PlanMaryland,” Maryland’s first statewide plan for sustainable growth. PlanMaryland is an executive policy plan that seeks to coordinate better the policies and programs of state government to encourage smart growth within the state. Pursuant an Executive Order, which was released with the Plan, state agencies will work within the next eight months to identify changes in strategy to achieve the goals of the plan, and to coordinate with local governments on delineating areas for future growth and preservation – a hallmark for the Plan.

The basic principle of PlanMaryland is to use state spending to encourage development in designated growth areas and to discourage it outside those zones. Supporters contend that the Plan encourages smart growth by reducing sprawl development and protecting the environment. It also conserves tax resources because there is less need to build infrastructure in rural areas. The O’Malley administration says PlanMaryland simply makes clear that state agencies will target state resources — for roads, schools and other public works projects — to support development within the counties' designated growth zones. While development outside those zones could still go forward, they might not get state funds.

The development community and local governments are leery of the Plan, primarily because of what it does not say. Notably, the process and criteria for identifying designated growth areas remains ambiguous. Under the Plan, local governments may nominate the designated growth areas, but ultimate approval rests with a Smart Growth Subcabinet, an entity consisting almost entirely of state department heads. The Plan is missing many critical details such as specific designation criteria, state implementation strategies and performance measures. Many more details are needed to alleviate the concern that PlanMaryland is, in essence, a tool to usurp local land use authority.

The next several months will be very telling on how PlanMaryland will interact with the local land use decision making process as state agencies begin to unveil regulations on Plan implementation. At the same time, PlanMaryland is sure to encounter several legislative challenges from the Maryland General Assembly, which essentially was left out of the Plan drafting process. More rural lawmakers, in particular, have vowed to introduce legislation that will modify the Plan or the state’s implementation authority in order to address their fears that PlanMaryland will leave rural regions cut off from state funding in favor of subsidizing more urban projects.

Patrick O'Neil is a land use attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland. For more information about PlanMaryland, contact Patrick at (301) 657-0738 or

This content is for your information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney before acting on any information contained here.


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