In Anne Arundel County (AAC), the mere mention of planning, development and zoning can ignite emotional responses. In a recent weekly e-newsletter to subscribers, County Executive Stuart Pittman said he also can be emotional about development. He bravely broached the topic, making clear he is pro-development when it occurs in the right places and against it when it harms the environment. He said in a week’s time he had visited several construction sites after being called on by outraged residents. Though the environmental insult he witnessed was hard to reconcile, he reminded readers that Anne Arundel is a “development-by-right” county. This may sound like a technical or complex term, but the definition is simple: by right, types of uses and development are permitted on a particular piece of land under the existing local regulations. He said, “Neighbors, county employees, county council members, and county executives are not empowered to deny grading or building permits for reasons other than noncompliance with county code, even when we’d prefer no development on the site.”
The LWVAAC’s interest in planning and zoning dates to the mid-1980s. In 1986, an LWVAAC study group investigated county planning and zoning, and our League ultimately developed a policy position to support controlled growth, enforcement of land use controls, and adoption of new regulations to support these concepts. In 1992, LWVAAC updated its earlier study, which remains relevant today. With a formal policy position, LWVAAC is confident to weigh in on issues when appropriate. LWVAAC members have frequently interacted with the county Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ) as well as with advisors to the county executive.
Recently, a small group of LWVAAC members, interested in land use and urban development, met virtually with Cindy Carrier, head of the Long-Range Planning Section of the OPZ Planning Division, which also includes the Cultural Resources Section and the Research and GIS Section. Conversation centered on the ongoing process to develop the county’s 20-year General Development plan, known as Plan2040. Progress reports are prepared annually and, in the spirit of transparency, background on the elements to be addressed in Plan2040 is available online.
Carrier addressed the intricacies of long-range planning, which sets the policy framework to protect the natural environment, shape development, provide public community services, and support a diverse and resilient economy. She spoke at length about the history of the planning process and the extensive work that was involved in developing and refining Plan2040, including dozens of public forums and thousands of comments from the community, as well as coordination from more than 20 County departments, State and Federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private sector partners.
Within Plan2040, there are subplans that focus on specific systems, such as the Transportation Functional Master Plan, the Water and Sewer Master Plan, Land Preservation Parks and Recreation Plan, Greenways Plan, and specific geographic regions such as the Region Plans and Town Center master plans for Parole, Glen Burnie, and Odenton. The purpose of these plans is to complement, detail, and assist in implementing the goals, policies and strategies of Plan2040. Master plans for the town centers are intended to concentrate development in these areas to help prevent county sprawl. Plan2040 specifically calls for a fundamental shift away from sprawling growth and toward smarter, more focused redevelopment of existing urban areas and areas surrounding mass transit.
Community boundaries are defined by nine regions within the county. The process to identify local needs or concerns of each region is led by members of the nine respective Stakeholders Advisory Committees (SAC). Committee members are appointed from pools of applicants. Carrier said the SAC members work diligently to understand the unique issues, characteristics, and strengths of each region after engaging with their residents through townhall meetings, online surveys and listening sessions, for example. A shared vision among residents and SACs is intended to inform the committee’s specific recommendations about land use, zoning, environmental protection, transportation improvements, public facilities, and community design.
The SACs for regions 2, 4, and 7 have produced Preliminary Draft Region Plans and Zoning Maps. The SACs for regions 1, 3, and 9 have been selected and will begin work later in 2023. The SACs for regions 5, 6, and 8 will begin the public process in 2024. To be informed on activities in your region, click here.
If you would enjoy learning more about the work of the OPZ, consider joining the LWVAAC Observer Corps. League observers gain insight into local government, make personal connections with elected representatives and monitor governmental actions in real time. Contact Alexis Dorsey to learn the many ways you may participate in the Observer Corps. #
By Kathy Larrabee, Director/Editor, and Alexis Dorsey, VP/Observer Corps Chair
(reprint from the September 2023 Voter)