Maryland’s Rural Lands in Danger: Which Way is Your County Headed?

(Annapolis, MD) – Maryland counties have just one month left to determine whether rural lands will stay rural or be slated for high-polluting, costly sprawl development. Analysis released by 1000 Friends this week shows mixed results.

“Legislation passed last session requires local jurisdictions to protect their rural lands from large scale development on highly polluting septic systems. By the end of 2012 each county needs to show that rural lands are kept rural and development is instead directed designated growth areas. It is these maps that we have been following closely. Does the county protects rural lands or pave them over,” explained Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “1000 Friends of Maryland is working to hold the counties accountable for their decisions and make sure these maps take us in the right direction.”

Maryland’s Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 was passed to limit high-polluting subdivisions on septic systems and encourage growth in areas with public sewer service. Sprawling development on septic systems pollutes the Chesapeake Bay, fragments farms and forests, undermines agriculture, and burdens our government with higher costs for basic services. The Act directs local jurisdictions to map their growth plans and zoning according to four tiers that increasingly limit the type of residential development that can occur.

“Current projections show Maryland losing over 400,000 acres of rural lands to sprawl development over the next fifteen years. That is a future we simply cannot afford,” explained Schmidt-Perkins. “This mapping effort is an opportunity for the counties to change that future into one with a stable tax base, thriving agriculture, and clean rivers and streams.”

Some counties are doing a great job of growing smart and their maps reflect that. Baltimore, Caroline, Kent, and Worcester counties had the strongest rating for preservation, with Allegany and Montgomery right behind.

  • Allegany has established a simple rule for what projects would count as a minor subdivision, closing endless loopholes and creating a clear guideline for developers and planning staff to follow.
  • Baltimore, Caroline, Kent, and Worcester counties historically have shown their strong commitment to protecting rural character through smart planning. These counties were able to simply draw a map reflecting their existing planning and zoning for continued success.
  • Montgomery County was the first to officially adopt the new map.

Other counties are struggling. Charles, Queen Anne’s, and Wicomico counties were rated the most at risk of rural development, with Frederick and Prince George’s the second most at risk.

  • In Charles County the Planning Commission has endorsed a map developed by an alliance of sprawl developers.
  • A Carroll County Commissioner has publicly urged citizens to sue if the County adopts a map, pledging to do everything in his power to ensure the County loses the lawsuit.
  • The Prince Georges County Planning Commission has rejected a strong map done by their planning staff and has instead recommended a map that would expose more land to development than allowed under current planning.
  • Wicomico County, which has some of the weakest rural zoning in the state, has refused to take action on the map, instead calling for “volunteers” to designate themselves as rural landowners.

“This analysis is a mid-term report card. We hope that over the next thirty days all the counties will take the steps necessary to fully protect the clean water, farming communities, and rural economies that depend on smart development,” said Schmidt-Perkins.

1000 Friends used three core criteria to determine each county’s progress so far:

  • Existing rural protections, particularly baseline zoning and exemptions;
  • Implementation of the Sustainable Growth Act, both draft maps and official decisions where votes have occurred; and
  • Decisions about changing subdivision laws to allow more houses in what is considered a minor development.

For more information including a printable version of the map and specific county analysis, visit www.friendsofmd.org. The analysis is based on the progress counties made by November 9th. The status of many counties has already begun to change with most slipping away from preservation. 1000 Friends will post updates to their website later in December.

 

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Glenn is a geographer and a GIS professional with over 20 years experience in the industry. He's the co-founder of GISuser and several other technology web publications.


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