With a strong commitment to transparency in the county’s development process, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman is calling for more public input into the county’s General Development Plan (GDP).
Speaking to residents, smart growth advocates and the development community in November, Pittman outlined his new vision for community driven planning.
“The General Development Plan is a difficult issue,” Pittman said. “I think I was elected because people in the county felt like growth had not been managed well and things were popping up in areas they didn’t expect development to be.”
In his estimation, rezoning, spot rezoning and comprehensive rezoning conducted over the past decade did not align with the previous GDP process or the Small Area Plans of 16 communities.
Since 2010, Anne Arundel County alone accounts for 40 percent of the forested land lost in the state of Maryland, he noted.
“We’ve had more land erosion and sediment control plans because of development than any other county in recent years,” Pittman said. “There are basic principles of smart growth that I think are the answer for us.”
Consequently, Pittman pumped the brakes on the GDP process and now plans to delay the draft plan until spring, allowing for a period of public input throughout summer and the County Council’s consideration of a final plan in the fall.
During that same time, the county’s Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ) will focus on code revisions to avoid the need for modifications to get future developments approved.
“We will actually have consistent rules that apply to everybody,” he said.
Pittman met with representatives from the nonprofit Smart Growth America advocacy group in May 2019 to learn more about using Transit Oriented Development to allow for growth while helping to preserve the natural landscape.
“I think that’s where we’re heading with this,” Pittman said.
Following the GDP adoption, the county will move on to a regional planning process steered by Citizens Advisory Committees in each of its nine regions.
“I feel like we’ve finally figured out how to involve the citizens of Anne Arundel County in this issue,” Pittman said.
Christina Pompa, the county’s Deputy Planning and Zoning Officer, said the final draft of Anne Arundel’s Plan 2040 will go out to the public in May before being turned over to the Planning Advisory Board for review and public hearing in August, arriving before the council by September with hopeful adoption by December.
“We’ll need updates to our Water and Sewer Master plan and some Town Center Plans like Odenton and Parole and our Greenways Master Plan is also on the table for an update,” she said. “We’re looking to start three of the regional plans by January 2021 and have all of the region plans done and be restarting the Comprehensive Plan Update within the eight-year planning cycle.”
Kimberly Brandt, director of Smart Growth Maryland, said Pittman’s approach to planning is a best practice that is being embraced in other counties.
But Pittman is considering going a step further, asking the Office of Law to look into the consequences of introducing a development moratorium on the MD 2 and MD 3 corridors because of traffic concerns, citing failing intersections and a rate of nearly one accident per day on MD 3.
Justification requires the identification of a crisis as well as a solution, timeline and plan, he added.
“If those intersections were not failing, the moratorium would theoretically be lifted but we’re waiting on a complete report from the Office of Law about what our options are,” Pittman said. “The alternative is looking at Adequate Public Facilities laws and whether or not the facility, the road and the traffic is adequate to allow the development as part of the complete look at all of our zoning regulations.”
In January, Pittman announced new guidance aimed at preventing sediment pollution from construction sites and preserving forests through the county’s revised forest conservation ordinance.
He also introduced a new system of notices to increase transparency in the development and construction review process, relying on the so-called Blue Notices to announce guidance or policy changes from the Department of Inspections and Permits, while Green Notices will announce the same from the OPZ. The new guidance tools will be made available online to the public and regulated community.
The county issued the first of these notices on Jan. 10, with one Blue Notice addressing runoff sediment from construction sites and outlining potential environmental violations likely to result in stop work orders or fines and three Green Notices describing how the county will implement its new forest conservation law that entered effect on Jan. 9.
The Office of Transportation and the Office of Public Works will follow suit in the near future, picking their own separate colors and utilizing the same system to be more transparent, Pittman said.
“Typically, these notices will provide policy guidance interpretations on how we deal with regulatory things,” he announced. “This is going to be the format that we use to communicate with the public in a real way.”