Region Forward Blog

Region Forward and PlanMaryland: Sustainable Visions for the Future

Dec 12, 2011

Richard Hall Maryland Secretary of Planning

When beginning any kind of planning process – whether it’s regarding next year’s summer vacation your retirement savings or the growth and development pattern of a state – it’s important to start by identifying your priorities.

That’s where we started when we began developing PlanMaryland – we identified two of its key priorities to be sustainable growth and efficiency.

Sustainable Growth

For the sake of the plan the state’s land will be identified in two primary categories: 1) growth areas: communities where there is existing and planned infrastructure that can support growth without exacerbating sprawl and 2) preservation areas: environmentally sensitive and rural lands that should be protected from the impacts of development.

We want local government to identify those growth and preservation areas. The plan is about transparency so local governments the development community and state agencies have a clear roadmap for the future. PlanMaryland doesn’t alter local government control over comprehensive planning and zoning; it better aligns State agencies so that their programs and policies foster smart growth objectives in those jurisdictions.

Development will be targeted into growth areas while 80% of land area in preservation areas will be targeted for preservation. This is what Counties are currently doing if they have certified Priority Preservation Areas. The goal is to promote continuously developed land thereby reducing the prevalence of sprawl and the negative environmental and climate impacts associated with that pattern of development.

We have to significantly alter the trajectory of land use in Maryland. As of now 70% of housing units in the state are being built inside growth areas (referred to as “priority funding areas” in the plan) while 70% of the land being developed is outside these growth areas. That is completely unsustainable.


The state has never had a plan tying together all of agencies and programs related to smart growth. That’s a large part of what PlanMaryland focuses on. It’s a 30000 foot policy plan that establishes planning areas and pulls together existing efforts across the state to enable collaboration and integration.

We’re well aware that a one size fits all model is not effective in a state-wide plan. Communities are unique. Region Forward recognizes this reality as well and accordingly takes a regional focus. In the same way that the District of Columbia Rockville and Loudoun County can all contribute in different ways to Region Forward’s overall progress the same can be said for rural areas small towns and major cities relative to PlanMaryland. Smaller cities like Cumberland and Cambridge which are very different from larger jurisdictions like Baltimore and Montgomery County have greatly benefited – economically and environmentally – from their smart growth policies.

PlanMaryland is the state’s first comprehensive plan for sustainable growth and development and as such its goals align very well with those of Region Forward the first such plan for the metropolitan Washington area. We’ve worked closely with the region’s planning directors in the development of both plans and we will continue to coordinate with the Region Forward Coalition in the future.

Moving Forward

The authority for the state to create a development plan has been in law for several decades. Given the major growth pressures our state and region are facing Governor O’Malley deemed it time to put the authority into action. Our state is projected to add one million more residents and 500000 more households by the year 2035.

We know that simply preventing what you don’t want (sprawl) doesn’t magically make what you do want (smart growth) happen. Governor O’Malley recognizing this has been working on fast-tracking development in priority growth areas to promote sustainability and economic growth.

The final version of the plan will be out in the coming weeks. The most recent draft is available here. After the plan is finalized and adopted we will begin working on implementation steps for putting PlanMaryland into action.

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