Land war breaks out in Maryland

Maryland has become the latest flashpoint in the nationwide conflict between urban elites and rural communities.  Determined to impose “Plan Maryland,” a sweeping land-use mandate that would hamstring rural development, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is facing a growing tax revolt and threats by local businesses to abandon the state.

“From Annapolis, he’s dictating how communities across the state should develop, and it’s wrong.  It’s arrogant,” Thomas Browning, a farmer from Frederick County, told the Washington Post (Oct. 31).  “He’s at war with rural Maryland,” added State Senator and Minority Whip E. J. Pipkin.

Plan Maryland is the O’Malley administration’s own version of “smart growth.”  In the name of protecting the environment and limiting sprawl, it would restrict development in rural areas by creating statewide guidelines that promote growth only in urban centers.  Under the plan, economic development would be promoted in the already densely populated, 40-mile-long Washington-Baltimore corridor.  At the same time, over 400,000 acres of land in rural Maryland would be roped off from any development.  If the plan’s smart-growth goals are not enough to “encourage” such development, state funding for school construction and other community needs would be used to reward or punish local governments for their compliance with the scheme.

Elected officials and businesses in rural areas point out that policies specifically designed to curtail growth in their communities will have a devastating effect on the local construction industry.  “At the local level, it’s hard to find a job that is not related to the building industry,” State Senator Joseph M. Getty (R) tells the Washington Times (Oct. 28).  “And now we’re going to make additional regulations to suppress the housing industry?”

In pushing for Plan Maryland, O’Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, is adding to his green credentials, which include support for costly off-shore wind farms and higher transportation taxes.  Earlier this year, the General Assembly in Annapolis refused to go along with O’Malley’s scheme that would have effectively banned septic tanks in most new, large-scale housing developments.  That defeat may be the reason he is considering bypassing the legislative process and, under an obscure 1974 statute, imposing Plan Maryland administratively after the public comment period ends Nov. 9. 

“As rural legislators and county commissioners, we will do everything we can to stop it through legislative means,” Delegate Kathy Afzali, Republican of Frederick County tells the Daily Caller (Nov. 2).  “But if we can’t stop it, we’re going to push back.  People are calling for absolute disobedience.  We’re not going to take it lying down.”

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.