Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Is smart growth dead in Maryland?

The inglorious end of Hogan's nomination for the Secretary of Planning in a State Senate Committee last week is a symptom of a larger problem: The Governor who built his reputation as a real estate broker is naturally no fan of of regulation that curtails what property owners can do with their land, whether they are farmers or developers and that means, of course, he is no fan of smart growth or a State Department that could potentially do state-wide planning.
Acting Secretary Peters at the nomination hearing 

In other words, a weak Secretary of that unloved department would be just fine, and so Wendi Peters became a deputy secretary under Hogan's initial appointment, David Craig who resigned in June 2016. Since then Wendi Peters was acting Secretary. At the time Hogan said: "Over the past 18 months, David has built a strong foundation for the department, and I am confident that Wendi will continue to effectively lead the department in her new position."

Both of Hogan's appointees came from positions in local government and both are not trained planners. Craig had been Mayor of Havre de Grace and also Harford County's Executive from 2004 to 2014, but was trained as a teacher. Peters was a paralegal at the firm of Boer Kale and served on Mount Airy's town council. She ran unsuccessfully as a State Delegate.

Both, Harford County and Carroll County  are the more most rural members of the regional Baltimore Metropolitan Council with a typically Republican government and many reservations about smart growth. Carroll places their 2nd amendment resolution prominently on its website:
We, the undersigned, in order to preserve the blessings of liberty to ourselves
and our posterity, recognize that it is our duty to be ever mindful that our civil
government exercises its just and lawful authority subject to the moral law of Almighty God and that all powers granted to civil government are derived through the people and are for the sole purpose of protecting and defending the unalienable natural rights which have been given the people by God, and affirmed by our Constitution, as part of His Created Order; 
And further recognizing that it is the natural tendency of civil government to expand beyond the limits of its rightful charter and to usurp authority and power which have not been authorized to it by God nor delegated to it by the consent of the governed, therefore, it is the duty of the people, through the agency of the lesser magistrate (local elected officials and Sheriffs), to challenge the civil government when and where it exceeds its authority and to remind overstepping officials thereof from whence their just powers devolve and the limits to which they may extend; (Resolution 884-2013)
The words leading State Democrats had for Wendi Peters were harsh: “Ms. Peters is likely qualified for a lot of things, but her background and experience do not make her qualified for Secretary of Planning,” said Baltimore Senator Bill Ferguson, chairman of the nominations committee. Senate President Mike Miller was even more blunt, he characterized Peters as a "paralegal who's in charge of 21 professionals" and added simply: "This lady is not qualified," Hogan spokesperson Doug Mayer saw sexism in those judgments and Hogan himself said Peters was "roughed up, I think in a pretty unfair way". Peters didn't appear ruffled in the hearing but she didn't appear as someone who is in charge of much.  She repeated several times that "the Department is purely advisory" to local government. She kept repeating that we "have no jurisdiction" and at times described her views from the perspective of her old position as a local policy maker, quite in the spirit of the quote above.

The question what role the State should play in land use planning has permeated many administrations since Governor Mandel's time when it became obvious that land consumption in the State was running wild with environmental degradation running rampant. (Maryland has consumed more land since 1970 than in all the two hundred years before.

Even though the State's charter would allow a statewide land use plan, even Democratic Governors shied away from anything that could look like curtailing local land use prerogatives. Smart Growth legislation, which began in earnest under Governor Schaefer and was strengthened under Governor Glendening and O'Malley, always amounted to more carrots than sticks. O'Malley's attempt of a State Plan was heavily embattled, even though it was little more than maps that showed the local land use across the state in a unified map and data base. The battle lines were the same as those between Democrats and Republicans in general, the metro areas around Baltimore and DC were for growth management, the rural jurisdictions against it.
Land consumption on the Eastern Shore (Easton)

When Hogan came into office, Plan Maryland, the state plan, was immediately scrapped and the Department of Planning was dialed down. Old Models and Guidelines booklets with best practices were taken down from the Department's website, old print copies and are not to be handed out even when jurisdictions ask for them. No more Smart Growth Cabinet (inter-agency coordination of  smart growth issues) and less staff. Planners left in frustration or began the arduous attempt of hibernating in a Department that doesn't really believe in Planning and even discourages humor. In all 22 positions were vacated, some through retirement, some through illness, some through people resigning. Morale sank, maybe not as deep as in the federal EPA under a Secretary that once wanted to abolish the department, but the analogy isn't entirely off the wall. In many ways Hogan's administration plays out like an off-Broadway version of what is currently going on in Washington even though the populist Governor likes to keep his distance to the populist President.
Land consumption Baltimore County  near the URDL

The always rebellious rural counties now feel less compelled to conform with State laws which are in effect to reduce sprawl. For example, that zoning and development has to be consistent with a county's comprehensive plan, that each jurisdiction has to define priority funding areas or prepare tier maps for development to manage septic systems. Cecil County dug up their 2012 tier map again, even though back then two state departments had the tier maps as non compliant. Acting Secretary Peters was quizzed about this at the hearing (she called the maps a "placeholder") but she was certainly not being "roughed up".

Smart Growth and its counterpart sprawl are terms the current administration avoids and that the State planners are not to use. Worse, there seems to be no sense of urgency to protect Maryland's forests, open spaces and waters just as there is no urgency to reverse climate change in Washington anymore. That is too bad, since one would expect that a conservative governments would be interested in conservation. The Governor took Ms Peters nomination off the table. The fate of a lot of land will depend on who will be nominated next.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated for spelling and typos