Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is pushing an ambitious statewide plan to bring a comprehensive “smart growth” strategy to Old Line State — a plan he hopes will reduce sprawl and empower environmental efforts. But detractors of “Plan Maryland” are calling it a “power grab” by Annapolis, stripping local governments of authority. We chat with Maryland Planning Secretary Richard Hall.
- Richard Eberhart Hall Secretary, Maryland Department of Planning
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When it comes to limiting sprawl and promoting environmentally friendly development, Maryland officially has a master plan on the books. Last month, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an executive order aimed at promoting denser communities in towns and cities, a consolidation of rules that could end up affecting everything from the construction of new roads to the locations of new schools.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut one man's master plan is another man's vendetta against rural areas of the Old Line State. Opponents of Plan Maryland have accused the governor of grabbing power away from local authorities for the sake of pushing his environmental agenda from Annapolis, accusations that have gone so far as calling the plan a socialist plot by a Democratic governor, even while many of the details about the potential impact of Plan Maryland are still unknown.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss the governor's vision and what the administration feels is at stake in this debate is Richard Hall. He is the secretary of planning for the State of Maryland. Richard Hall, thank you for joining us.
MR. RICHARD EBERHART HALLThank you, Kojo. Glad to be here. I've always enjoyed the show.
NNAMDIThank you very much for joining us. You, too, can join this conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. How do you think local governments in Maryland could be smarter about how they decide to use land? Is smarter growth something you think should be a statewide priority? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIRichard Hall, the name itself is rather vague -- Plan Maryland. Before we go any further, how would you describe what Plan Maryland is in the simplest terms possible?
HALLWell, in the simplest terms, the plan is a strategy, a playbook for existing state programs that are in place. Many of these programs have been in placed across several state agencies in Maryland for decades. It also will better enable the state to work with local governments because, currently, we have a lot of state programs scattered across a number of state agencies. And there's not one strategy, one playbook, one business plan that knits them together and paint a path forward. So in the simplest terms, that's what the plan is.
NNAMDISmart growth is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. How do you define it?
HALLWell, smart growth is one of those terms. And one of the challenges is one of the beauties of it is it's in the eye of the beholder, but it's basically trying to get growth to go where it makes the most sense to go, where the infrastructure is, where the communities are and where the fiscal impact is best and try to limit the spreading out, the suburban sprawl, the rural sprawl growth across our agricultural and forest lands.
NNAMDIThis is not a new law. Under what authority is the government acting to make these changes?
HALLWell, the first point is that the -- there's a law, it was passed in '59 and 1974, and then the General Assembly spoke to it again in 2007, 2009 with the creation of a growth commission. And the major part of the growth commission's mission is to help the administration take over its work on Plan Maryland. But the plan itself is a policy plan. It's not a law. A law directed my agency to do the plan. We're following that law to a T, how it prescribed for us to conduct the plan.
HALLSo, again, the plan does not give us new authority. What the plan does is direct us to coordinate and come up with a policy plan, a strategic document for existing state programs.
NNAMDIYou're projecting that the state of Maryland will have a million more residents by the year 2035 and that the state is going to need to spend $29 billion on construction for roads and schools during the course of the next 25 years or so to accommodate that growth. How did you come up with that estimate?
HALLThere's a lot of things that go into that. And for the first estimate on the population, the agency has done population estimates for decades. And our track record on them is quite good. The estimates for fiscal impact, we looked at how -- where growth could -- is projected to go, both based on local growth policies, how much it would cost to serve that new construction, whether it's for roads, sewer, different public services. So it's a matter of looking at projection and then estimating the cost of serving that future growth.
NNAMDITalking about, what, 23 years down the road, is it a good thing for the population to be increasing at that kind of rate?
HALLWell, there's a lot of debate on that. You know, I think these days, especially given the economy lately, people want to seek growth wherever they can get it almost, and there are some that definitely don't want their community or the state to grow anymore. That's kind of a tough thing to do in a state like Maryland where we're bounded by the nation's capital and West Virginia on one side, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware.
HALLSo there's a lot of boundaries. Certainly, Maryland by -- more than most states, is not an island. So we're going to grow. And so, if we're going to grow, we need to grow smart. We have the ability to grow in our existing communities and limit how much we spread out, but that's part of why we need to grow as smart as possible in a state like Maryland.
NNAMDIOne of the things I read that surprised me in the executive summary of your report is that you've found that the pace of land consumption in Maryland has escalated at twice the rate of housing growth since the 1970s, and it tripled the rate of population increase. What do you think contributed to that?
HALLWhat it boils down to, Kojo, is your average home inside a growth area in Maryland consumes seven to eight times less land per household than a house outside the growth area that would be served by a septic system, a big lot. And, you know, we're not telling people where to live. But, certainly, when you look over time and the growth rates that we've had and the growth rates we're projecting in the future, it really adds up. A few houses here and there are not a big deal, but we're looking at a million new Marylanders and just under 500,000 new households in the next 25 years.
HALLLike you mentioned before, it's going to really matter where we grow, whether that house is inside our growth areas or whether it's out in a big lot, which necessitates more public services to get to it and serve it and to -- over time, hooking up probably that septic system to better technology. And that relates to some bills that are in session this year, but growing smart matters not only for our agricultural but for the bay, our streams, our rivers and our communities.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to people who say, look, Maryland is already one of the most densely populated states in the country, what's the impetus for further emphasizing density?
HALLIt is. It's the fifth most densely populated state in the nation overall. But, you know, our communities have the ability to grow and fill development, redevelopments. You know, one thing to keep in mind, in the city of Baltimore, Baltimore City, its population in the 1950s was a million people, just under a million. The past census, this past April 2000 rather, a couple of years ago, it came in at about 610,000.
HALLSo it's gone from a million to 610,000 since the 1950s. So that's just one example. We have, to a lesser degree -- we've seen population loss in some of our existing built areas already. So we really need to make the best use of what we have now so we can grow, but limit the impacts, the negative impacts on growth and maximize the positive impacts on growth.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Richard Hall. He is the secretary of planning for the Stare of Maryland. We're discussing what's known as Plan Maryland, Gov. O'Malley's plan to emphasize smart growth in Maryland, depending on what your interpretation of smart growth is. You may want to join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Have you chosen to live in a suburban neighborhood to get away from dense urban-city life?
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about the state providing incentives to encourage denser development? 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Let's talk about how this plan will work for a minute. The governor has said this plan is not going to be a straight-jacket for local governments, but that the state is not going to subsidize them anymore. If they want to make stupid land-use decisions, how is the state going to define what's smart and what's stupid? And how is it going to reward and punish local governments based on what they decide to do?
HALLWell, what the plan is going to do is build on a lot of its existing policies it has in place, the Priority Funding Area Act from 1997, and the smart growth areas are already areas that coincide with local government growth areas where state transportation dollars are targeted. State -- other infrastructure dollars are targeted there. We're going to set up with local governments, and we're working on this right now, and this goes with an executive order the governor signed last month, these planning areas.
HALLSo, that way, we have a common language, a common sheet of music that we have not had before where we're going to articulate with the local governments where the areas that are most targeted for development, redevelopment, revitalization. So that's one area we'll map with local governments and direct our revitalization-type Main Street programs, revitalization tax credits and programs like that, transitory and development into those areas.
HALLOne of our staple existing communities, neighborhoods that we want to continue to be vibrant communities -- but they're not going to have a lot of growth -- 2e want to map those and then map these kind of in-between areas that are rural communities or large lot residential areas. And we recognize that those are there, and there'll be hopefully a limited amount of increase in that type of development pattern. And we also want to map with the local governments areas targeted for preservation so we can target our land preservation, our environmental programs there.
HALLSo, really, come up with a sort of common language, if you will, that works across both local government and state government and across state government agencies. We have a number of agencies at state that have their own piece of the puzzle here.
NNAMDIBefore we go to the telephones, I wanted to get back to the two magic words that you mentioned earlier because that seems to be a crucial aspect of the plan, septic systems. There are specific kinds of development that the state wants to avoid that you can give us an example of. I read an article where the governor gave his example about homes being built on two-acre plots with septic systems instead of sewer hookups.
HALLSure. In Maryland, this is not unique to Maryland. I think it's a more pronounced issue in Maryland. The kind of growth that we really need to try to limit more than most is that two-acre lot on a septic system, what the governor mentioned. And that really matters in a state like Maryland. We were speaking earlier about, you know, the population growth, and Maryland is a densely populated state.
HALLIt's not dense. The people of Maryland are very, very smart, but it's densely populated. And we need to grow smarter than most other states. I think smart growth is more important in Maryland than most other states for all the reasons we've been mentioning and others as well. So we need to have less of that kind of growth. It takes up two acres. That's two football fields, just to put in perspective.
HALLWe're giving a little event coming up next Sunday. That's two football fields worth of land to house -- that house takes up that land. It could have been better used for forestry, for agri-business, for the environment. The septic system pollutes 10 times more per household than that house would be if it's on central sewer in Maryland. And also the infrastructure cost will accumulate over time for a home like that.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here we'll start with Diana in Potomac, Md. Diana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANAHi, Kojo. Great topic as usual. I wanted to ask your guest to comment and compare what Montgomery County has done with its long-range planning and master planning, compared to how the state is going about it. And do you think Montgomery County is doing a better a job? Are you modeling your plan on Montgomery? Do you think it's a terrible job? And also, how the state interacts with things that are going on in the county level, like the zoning advisory panel, which is currently rewriting all the zoning codes for the county.
NNAMDIIn 10 seconds or less.
HALLSure, in 10 seconds.
NNAMDINo, I'm just kidding. Go ahead.
HALLThank you, Kojo. Well, Montgomery County is a model nationally -- not just in Maryland -- for smart growth, even before we called it smart growth. Most planners study Montgomery County in their schools. We are -- we have looked at some of the best across the state, including Montgomery County, as we pulled together the plan, even looking at something as basic and fundamental as a corridor and wedges plan in Montgomery County from many decades ago.
HALLSo Montgomery County does do a good job. Montgomery County, as you probably know, is the most populous jurisdiction in Maryland. It's just under a million people, and so the growth challenges in Montgomery County are tough. But while Montgomery County has and is even improving many of the suburban areas, some great case studies there, and also maintains through its land preservation and strong rural zoning.
HALLSome quite rural lands in a very populous state, so it's really got what a planners would like to see, putting the growth where it belongs with -- served by transit and mixed-used development and then trying to preserve the rural resources. There's always -- when you drill down, there's always issues, of course, when you get down at site level. And we tend to be mostly a 30,000-foot agency, getting to your other question, but we do interact with local governments extensively.
NNAMDIDiana, what are your own feelings about the Montgomery County plan?
DIANAWhat are my opinions about the plan?
NNAMDIUh huh, the Montgomery County plan.
DIANAI -- yeah, I think the people who put the agriculture reserve is, you know, 90,000 acres of conservation area into that zone 30 years ago were visionaries. And it's only thanks to that that if you do -- if you look at an aerial photograph of Virginia and Loudon versus Montgomery County, Montgomery County has this beautiful green zone, where we got local farms. You can go pick your own blueberries and strawberries.
DIANAAnd Loudon is this one great, big cave zone of leisure world and traffic. I think it's a brilliant plan, and it's always under attack because, of course, developers would like nothing better than to be able to set up a nice green field project there.
NNAMDIYeah, indeed. Richard Hall, the governor's plans says it seeks to maintain as agricultural or forest land more than 400,000 acres that Maryland planners would otherwise be developed over the next -- Maryland planners project it would be otherwise be developed over the course of the next 20 years or so?
HALLYes. Again, this is trying to follow some of the model in Montgomery County. We're talking about trying to channel the growth to where it makes the most sense to grow from economic development, community, fiscal impact and cost of growth perspective and trying to take on agricultural reserve example Montgomery County has. We have some other counties that do that. Across the state, we got some that don't.
HALLAnd so it's not only about what local governments do. It's also the plan, our plan, Plan Maryland, is about how we make the sister agencies work together as smartly as possibly. That's a important coordination effort that may not be readily apparent to your average Marylander, but it's very important internal and state government, making sure our silent agencies don't continue to be silent on this issue.
HALLWe work together pretty well, but this plan will help really fine-tune how we interact together 'cause these things cross over jurisdictional boundaries, agency boundaries and even level of government boundaries.
NNAMDIDiana, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. The lines are still open. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Where do you think Maryland most needs a better long-term vision for future developments? Are there parts of the state where you think local leaders have made unwise decisions when it comes to planning?
NNAMDI800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Plan Maryland, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to encourage smart growth in Maryland. Our guest is Richard Hall. He is the secretary of planning for the state of Maryland. I'd like to go directly to the telephones to Kimberly, who is Washington, D.C. Kimberly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIMBERLYHi. I'm a resident of Maryland...
NNAMDIKimberly, you're breaking up on us. We can't hear your phone properly. I'm going to put you on hold and get back to you. But it's my understanding, Richard Hall, that Kimberly's question has to do with the Eastern Shore. It's not like the needs in every local jurisdiction in Maryland are the same. Eastern Shore counties are very different from Montgomery County or Baltimore City. How does this plan account for that, or is this a one-size-fits-all approach?
HALLWell, certainly, we do a plan at state level, and very few states have one of them. The first thing that you might hear first criticizing is one size doesn't fit all, and we know that. Maryland is, at times, referred to as America in miniature, and the Eastern Shore is very important. I'm a native from the Eastern Shore, and so I know a little bit about that area down there. And the needs are different. The development patterns are different. The development patterns there tend to focus on smaller towns and some areas in between growing.
HALLAgribusiness, agriculture is extremely important statewide and especially in the Eastern Shore. And the environment landscape is different in how growth relates to our water bodies. I would submit that the impact to the streams and rivers, creeks and the bay down there is more direct than it might be in other parts of the state because with the groundwater works and the higher water table.
HALLSo it is important in the more of a rural community, so, certainly, you're not going to have transit-oriented development perhaps much on the Eastern Shore. But you still need smart growth, and smart growth is certainly scalable as we like to say. You can have smart growth in Salisbury and Cambridge that's just as important as smart growth in White Flint. It's just different scale in a different part of the state.
NNAMDIHere's David in Frederick County, who has something to say about that. David, your turn.
DAVIDThank you very much. Kojo, thank you for having me on your show. I've always been a fan. I was taking exception with the septic system issue because, in Frederick County, the septic issue is, towards the bay, is nil. I mean, for example, I know that (unintelligible) so you stop septic systems. Most of the septic issue is Anne Arundel County with their half-acre lots on the bay, plus all the nitrous oxide that are released (unintelligible) released into the bay by the chicken (unintelligible).
DAVIDNot to mention the Baltimore City problems with their sewage treatment plans. And this one-size-fits-all, to build on the previous caller's comment, it doesn't work. I think if you have the possibility to mix up (unintelligible) and be green, the so-called gray water development that they can actually use to water the lawn, and you can return the water to the aquifer. I think the so-called smart growth -- I object to it from smart growth because it's a loaded nonsense word because what's the opposite of smart?
DAVIDStupid growth. You can't have stupid growth. But there is one way -- many roads up the mountain. And I do believe that you have -- are backward-looking, and I think you have, using the (unintelligible) approach without looking at the nuances of the area. A septic system that could (unintelligible) the mountains is not going to threaten the bay. It's not going to threaten anything, and you're not going to be building sewage up to that. And the owners don't want that.
NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have Richard Hall respond. The one-size-fits-all comment was not from our previous caller. It came from me. Richard Hall, go ahead please.
HALLWell, you know, Frederick County is a very important county, and it's not as close to the bay as parts of the shore. No doubt about it. But, you know, septic systems, you know, they have different -- there's more to smart growth than just septic systems. But since we're talking about septic systems, 'cause not only they're an issue with pollution, nitrogen pollution more specifically, and also an important from the land use prospective.
HALLAnd I think it's important -- and I tip my hat to the governor for finally being a leader that doesn't try to separate the two. So even in Frederick County, you know, when you're talking about the Monocacy River or other water bodies, nitrogen is still an issue. It may not be as prominent as it might be in other parts of the state, but the pollution from septic systems still -- it goes somewhere, and, ultimately, it's going to reach surface waters, streams, makes it way to the bigger rivers, whether it's the Potomac, ultimately the bay.
HALLSo again, the cause and effect may not as be direct in Frederick but still very important. Frederick is a growing county, and it has growth on septic system, also has growth in, you know, a great city like Frederick City and southern municipalities. And it's a big county. It's the biggest county in the state in terms of acres, so there's a lot in play there. It's a beautiful county, and I hope everyone can work together to keep it that way.
NNAMDITo which you...
DAVIDBut you're looking backwards.
NNAMDIGo ahead, David.
NNAMDIYou were saying?
DAVIDI'm saying you're looking backwards. Frederick County is not growing. I think the problem with the whole approach to land use planning is that it's looking back past 30 years. I mean, the watershed event has happened in the United States in the five, 10 years with economic growth. And more people are concentrating on their own volition into D.C. area (unintelligible) on their own because they can't afford -- the infrastructure cannot afford the commuters. And they can't afford to live as far away, plus the gas prices.
DAVIDI think the -- in planning, you look ahead. You guys have looked backwards. And I -- and also, the question's about property use. If I were to have two -- if I owned two acres, I want to build a septic system, why shouldn't I? And I have no impact on any of my neighbors, why are you going to interfere with my property rights?
NNAMDIWill you say that if you build a septic system on your two acres, it won't have any adverse impact on the environment at all?
DAVIDNo, it will not because it is using -- according to the latest technology, this blue -- this grey water. What it does is you -- the water you use goes into -- goes back into the aquifer after being processed and cleansed. And it just essentially returns to the soil...
NNAMDIOK, I don't have a lot of time to spend on this. But, Richard Hall, I'd like you to respond to what David just argued.
HALLWell, just a couple of points. Many people have said what David has said about some of the -- because of the economy that we may grow on our own volition, might grow smarter because of the cost of infrastructure, people don't want to commute as much, that type of thing. And certainly, I hope he's right. I think the economy will come back, and I think some -- there will be some changes on its own. I still think that we need to plan. We're looking backward and forwards with the plan.
HALLAnd there still will be pressure for sprawl growth in some parts of the state. You know, and the grey water-type system -- not to get in the weeds in that type of technology -- but if you're building that type of system, that's great to decrease the pollution from the septic system. But that is rare in Maryland to build those types of systems.
HALLThe vast majority of septic systems in place today in Maryland and being built, except in the critical area -- the Chesapeake and Coastal Bay critical areas are -- the vast majority of systems are using 50-year-old technology that were never made to remove nitrogen. Some folks are putting those higher N1s in today, but that's not the majority of what's getting put in the ground today.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you very much for your call. For a slightly different point of view, here is Allan in Dorchester, Md. Allan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLANThanks very much, Kojo. Appreciate the opportunity. You know, and just -- I want to congratulate the secretary for taking a leadership on Plan Maryland. You know, it seems like all folks can agree in the need for efficient government that, you know, very much, you know, supports the need for citizens in the state. So I really like the idea of the plan, you know, helping make governments more efficient now.
ALLANAnd my question has to do with, you know, the impacts of sprawl developments on the environment, on the health of communities and on local economies. You know, I know there's a lot of studies out there that talk about the impacts of sprawl fiscally to local governments, you know, whether it's, you know, more bus trips or more police and fire service needed to serve rural areas, you know, where development happens further and far away from the infrastructure that needed the support.
ALLANYou know, and particularly the piece about septic systems, we've been talking about that. You know, 95 percent of Maryland is located in the bay watershed. So whatever the septic system, you know, served by whatever type of technology, it's going to have an impact. But, Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that, you know, eight to 10 times more pollution from a sprawl development and that's been a type of development that's located in an urban area.
ALLANI mean, somebody's got to pick up the costs for that. And, you know, why do the citizens of Maryland have to bear the burden of lousy water quality for the sprawl development that pollutes eight to times 10 -- eight to 10 times as much as another?
NNAMDIWell, Richard Hall, what the governor has said is that counties are free to participate in "stupid development projects" if they want to, but the state doesn't have to subsidize them. Is that the general approach you're taking?
HALLThat's generally it. Certainly, you know, we want to have as much smart growth as possible, and Allan mentions a lot of great points. And the problem with a lot of the impacts of sprawl is that they're -- they can be subtle. They can be indirect, and they occur over time.
HALLBut, you know, at a time when we're spending and have spent an awful lot of time, people's effort and a lot of the public dollars on trying to fix the bay and our important streams and rivers that flow into it, we really need to limit how much of this disproportionately impacting type growth that we have in the state and through a number of different management means because it is a little bit of taking two steps forward and one back when we're, you know, spending a lot of money on -- with agriculture and the farmers, on cover crops or on the wastewater treatment plants or in stormwater.
HALLA lot of communities out there are working very hard in these things, and we're still allowing this growth that, again, disproportionately is impactful on water quality. Again, we really have to grow as smart as we can, and these things impact state regionally and our local communities.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Maryland Secretary for Planning Richard Hall, call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or you can send email to email@example.com. Here is the other side of the story. One of the top Republicans in Annapolis, State Sen. E.J. Pipkin has basically called Plan Maryland a declaration of war against the state's rural counties.
NNAMDIOther local leaders have said this plan is a scheme to siphon their tax dollars to urban areas. How would you respond? How would you attempt to change their minds?
HALLWe've tried -- we talked to a lot of the critics of the plan. I think, in some cases, folks -- we need to talk to them more about what the plan does and what it doesn't do. And others, I think, some have opportunistically seen the plan as a great target to vent issues they've had with smart growth in general for a long time. Again, the plan does not give the state any authority it does not already have.
HALLAnd I think there's some in Maryland that have never liked smart growth programs, and the fact that we're trying to wrap things together, trying to knit them together at the state level into this plan has made it a target of those that would want to take us backward and not support the policies.
NNAMDIWill this plan, as some have charged, take jobs away from rural areas?
HALLNo, not at all. And, you know, we keep hearing some of this broad swiping-type charges against the plan, but then nothing specific to ever back them up. I just can't imagine how the plan would do that. It's got a economic development focus as well as land use and environmental.
NNAMDIHere is Laurie in Washington, D.C. Laurie, your turn.
LAURIEHi. As you said, I live in D.C., and we've just started the 2012 new zoning regulation -- and I've got two questions that would affect Maryland residents in places like Chevy Chase and Bethesda where they've got smaller land. Does the Maryland proposal increase density (unintelligible) decreasing the buffer zones between lots, you know, backyard and side yard? And also, what's the -- homeowners are going to find business concerns buying and using the house next door?
LAURIEThrough what I understand, there are proposed new zoning regulations. The zoning rules will change. The nonprofits, associations, clubs could take ownership or lease only almost any house in any residential area without public hearing. And this, of course, might lead to late-night activities, increased traffic and parking. So I live on the border between D.C. and Maryland, and I've got a lot of friends over the other side of the road. And I'm wondering how zoning proposals are similar to ours that are coming up for just -- thanks.
HALLSure. Thanks for the question. The kind of questions you're asking, Laurie, are more the type of questions that will make sense in the local government level, comparing Washington, D.C. to Montgomery County or the municipalities they're in. For what we're doing at the state level, your kind of questions are very important because that's what you see every day, but they're much further drilled down to what we're dealing with at the 30,000-foot level, what the plan.
HALLWith Plan Maryland, we want existing communities to be vibrant. We want existing communities that needs some help be revitalized. And, yes, in certain areas, we'd like to see and feel development and redevelopment. But, generally, the type of site level issues you raise are not the focus of the plan.
NNAMDIAllow me to add this from -- a Facebook comment we got from Ian, who says, "As a chef previously from Easton, Md., I've seen the worst of smart growth. Our town was up in arms when Wal-Mart came to town 15 years ago. As part of the plan for smart growth, many wanted a moratorium on big-box projects. However, even with caps on sizes and building architecture, more and more of these projects came because transplants from the Western shore decided the stores and restaurants -- desired the stores and restaurant they had there.
NNAMDI"In the last three years, Bob Evans, Olive Garden, Applebee's, Chipotle and Kohl's have come to town with a -- a town of less than 20,000 people. This is killing our downtown and its independent businesses. How can one justify this as smart growth wherein the amount of restaurants alone tallies upward of 80 freestanding establishments?" That is lower down on the food chain is what you're suggesting. That's more at the county and city level?
HALLWell, we certainly look at those things, and they come up. We don't certainly permit any of that. Again, the plan is a policy plan. We're mostly a policy agency. But, you know, it's a tough balance. I mean, certainly, in a place like Easton, that the caller mentioned, you want to have a vibrant growth, and there's a, you know, lot of challenges on that right now. And you want to have a vibrant downtown. And it is hard to maintain both. I know the mayor in Easton is working to try to revitalize some of the buildings downtown and structurally, as well as having tenants in them.
HALLBut, you know, the other thing to keep in mind -- supply and demand. So we all have to be thinking about what is the demand for a restaurant or for retail space like a Wal-Mart, and how does that square with what's in place downtown? This is a national issue. And it's not only supply-demand. It's also what type. Certain people, you know, don't want to go downtown to buy products. They think they can get it cheaper out at the fringes in the big stores. And that's a big debate.
HALLYou know, being a planner, a life-long planner, certainly, you know, my preference, personal preference would be to see, you know, the nice old general store downtown on Main Street. But, you know, I do try to be a realist as well, believe it or not. And, you know, people want to shop in the other stores as well. But, definitely, you know, looking at marketing and growth projections for retail demand is important in balancing your downtown with your more suburban development.
NNAMDILaurie, thank you very much for your call. We're going to be back after this short break. If you've called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. It's a conversation about Plan Maryland. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Richard Hall. He is the secretary of planning for the state of Maryland. We're talking about Gov. O'Malley's plan for smart growth in the state of Maryland. Richard Hall, the governor has a very full agenda in Annapolis this year. Some of his environmental priorities could face uphill battles. He came up short last year on getting votes on a number of issues, including septic systems.
NNAMDIHow would you respond to the criticism that the governor is using Plan Maryland as an end-around, if you will, on some of the issues where he hasn't been able to move the votes in Annapolis?
HALLWell, the plan, again, is, of course, a coordination policy plan for existing state programs and helping us to work better, work more smartly with local governments. The bills, which are laws, are proposed laws, bills. They're a different animal than a plan. And you are right. The governor certainly has a full plate he's putting out there for a whole host of issues, environmental and otherwise. And -- but they're very important. And it's going to be difficult to move forward.
HALLThere's a lot of opposition to some of them, and there's a lot of support for some of them. So specifically on the septic system bill, there was a bill put out last year. And as the general assembly session wind down last year -- wound down last year, the governor issued an executive order to pull together the key stakeholders -- I believe it was 28 member task force -- to look at ways of improving the bill, making it more palatable, making the bill work better for everyone.
HALLSo they -- the Maggie McIntosh, the chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee was a chair of this task force, and Jon Laria, the chair of the Sustainable Growth Commission, was the vice chair. We moved forward. We had a lot of meetings and issued a report in mid-December, which is on our webpage, by the way, the Maryland Department of Planning, and that's really setting the framework for the bill that we're working on now. And it's been introduced in the general assembly.
HALLWe'll be having hearings next month on this bill. I think the bill is much more sensitive to some of the critics. And I'll be glad to talk about the bill, but, you know, generally, the bill seeks to accomplish many of the goals of last year's bill but doing it in a more sensitive manner to how local government planning and zoning policies are already set up, making it sort of mesh better.
NNAMDIOn now to Dave in Bethesda, Md. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVEHi. I (unintelligible) North Bethesda, you know, right adjacent to the White Flint project?
DAVEAnd I think that's a, you know, an excellent example of, you know, smart growth. But one of the problems I see is that making Rockville Pike pedestrian-friendly is going to be a problem because it involves multiple jurisdictions. It extends, you know, from Bethesda all the way up to Gaithersburg and Rockville. And, in fact, it's a state road. So I'm interested in how the state can coordinate it, you know, to try to expedite it.
HALLWell, Dave, that's a great case study there, White Flint area and the Rockville Pike going through it. We've talked to the county about it. We've had presentations by some in the development community working on it, by the county planning director and by others.
HALLAnd it exemplifies a lot of what we need to be thinking about doing in sort of the older suburban parts of Maryland to make them more livable, make better use of them and update them, whether it's how they're used for office space and retail, how we move around, whether it's by car, by foot, pedestrian or by transit, in this case, and make them as attractive as they can be.
HALLAnd I know various state agencies -- of course, Department of Transportation is very directly involved in this. I can't speak to exactly how to expedite it. All I can tell you is the state is working closely with the players here locally on that project, and many are excited about revitalizing that corridor.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Dave. And you should know you can find a link to the Maryland Department of Planning's website for Plan Maryland at our website, kojoshow.org. Some lawmakers feel that they have been shut out of the process with this plan. The aforementioned Sen. E.J. Pipkin has said he will craft a bill that will require the administration to put a plan like Plan Maryland before the legislature. How do you feel about the extent to which lawmakers were kept in the loop with this plan?
HALLThe lawmakers were kept in the loop. What we did is we followed the law that the General Assembly passed when it prescribed the need for my agency to do the plan and how to do it. And, you know, we're the first ones to actually do the plan, and that -- I will admit that that law has some age to it. The last time they fully rewrote that law was 1974.
HALLHowever, the General Assembly spoke to the plan about 2007 and 2009 when they created, first, a task force, and then that task force graduated to a full-blown growth commission in 2009 of the General Assembly 'cause one of its main mission items is Plan Maryland or, the more formal name, state development plan.
NNAMDITo what extent, do you feel, the administration may have failed so far on the PR front with Plan Maryland? Even the governor has had to make a fair amount of effort to explain that it's not a U.N. conspiracy to impose their priorities on states like Maryland.
HALLI think that you can never do too much outreach. We've done a lot of outreach. We met with 3,000 people directly in significant meetings, two to three hours. We had at least five -- excuse me, 50,000 people visit our website on this. But, again, it's a controversial issue. To do this plan for the first time, I think, to some degree, doing it now when the economy is tough and what's on the politics are tougher than might be on average added to the problem.
HALLYou know, I think if we did this in another time, there wouldn't be quite as much talk about it. I think some out there, you know, have legitimate concerns. We try to address those. I think others have seen this as an opportunistic target to roll back some of the state's smart growth program. So it is unfortunate that in some arenas it's caused a lot of push-back. It has generated a very important -- I think 10, 20 years from now, a couple of years from now, we'll look back and see what a good conversation we've had as a result of this controversy.
NNAMDIJoe in Takoma Park, Md., would like to know a little bit more about citizen input or assistance. Joe, your turn.
JOEYeah. The conversations covered so many of the points that I had since I called. It's just -- it's so -- but maybe it wasn't clear. So it's not a pending bill. It's actually -- it's already, like, implemented, like it's...
NNAMDIIt's a plan.
JOE...it's under way, already now. It's a plan, and so it's kind of like in a dynamic place...
JOE...gotcha. Well, I mean, I would just say I think it's so fundamental just for the whole planet in terms of looking at sustainability, but especially here in Maryland I think it's just extra key. So, yeah, I just totally support and would be interested in terms of what's the best place to have my voice heard and to just support the broader idea of the -- doing smarter growth because it seems like, especially since now, more than ever, with the economy, that this mantra of growth at all costs seems to just trump things. And I think all the strip malls and four-lane highways and box stores are good examples of that.
NNAMDISo you'd like to know what you, as a citizen, can do to help? Is there anything that Joe, the average Joe, can do to help?
HALLSure. There's plenty of things. Certainly at state level, you know, pretty broad and -- you know, at that 30,000-foot level. However, there's a couple of things I'll mention quickly. One is to get involved locally in your neighborhood, your community, your local government, whether it's a town, a municipality or county or both. There's different groups. There's advocacy groups, whether it's 1000 Friends of Maryland or the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, others out there.
HALLThey're -- at the state level, we have the Sustainable Growth Commission. We put our agendas and our minutes on a webpage. And, you know, we're actually meeting this afternoon in Crownsville, but we meet every other month, and there are subcommittees that meet more frequently, and they're open. Everything is open. So there's a number of things you can do. You can visit our website. There's a lot of ways to interact there.
HALLThere's even a smart growth game on our webpage you can check out and leave comments on. So you can comment online as well. So there's a multitude of ways to get involved. Some of it depends on the piece of this broad issue called smart growth you're most interested in.
NNAMDIJoe, thank you for your call. If we can step away from Plan Maryland for a minute, because the state has undertaken some big projects recently on the planning front and is about to take on more, the Intercounty Connector is finally a reality in the Washington suburbs. What lessons do you think the state should take out of all the wrangling that went into building the ICC and how the road is being used so far?
HALLWell, the Intercounty Connector, first, I would say that's a quite an atypical-type project. You won't see anything like that in Maryland again for a long time. I think as many of the listeners to your show realize, that's an issue that's been talked about for, literally, for decades before it was built. I know it's very controversial in environmental and smart growth community and in the business community. You can find people on both sides of the argument there in all those sectors. You know, I know that they've worked very hard and gotten awards for the type of environmental mitigation they did.
HALLThey connected some important corridors that weren't as well connected before. Certainly, on the other side, you can look to, you know, impacting some of the undeveloped areas. And the cost was significant, but I think many would say it's important piece of infrastructure that Central Maryland needed. You know, as far as lessons learned, again it's such a atypical project. It's hard to galvanize it. It's still pretty new. I think we still want to learn.
NNAMDIWell, Eric in Manassas, Va., thinks there should be at least one lesson learned. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICThank you. Good show. I'm just calling to weigh in in favor of rail rapid transit as opposed to bus rapid transit, which is being considered, and it only saved a certain -- small amount of money, relatively. And the...
NNAMDIWhich brings me to this. Thank you for bringing it up, Eric, 'cause we're running out of time. What do you think is at stake for Maryland right now in planning for the so-called Purple Line? We're talking rail here.
HALLPurple Line is very important, connecting the corridor that has been outlined there, and certain transit stops that are being looked at, and, you know, moving forward from New Carrollton, going to College Park. And several of the projects they're planning, and some of the projects themselves are under way. And it's in the preliminary design stage. So as these type of projects go, that's a very positive sign. I think it'll be extremely important to realize a lot of the smart growth goals at the state, regional and local levels, something in Central Maryland, to get this kind of infrastructure is huge.
NNAMDIEric, thank you very much for your call.
ERICYou won't have the same thing with bus rapid transit.
NNAMDIOK, Eric. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Richard Hall, thank you for joining us.
HALLThank you. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIRichard Hall is the secretary of planning for the state of Maryland. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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