Severna Park and Arnold residents, it’s your turn to grade county government. It’s your turn to fill out a report card.
County Executive Steuart Pittman released a preliminary draft of the Plan2040 General Development Plan (GDP) on September 30 during a press conference at the Brooklyn Park Library. The plan will govern land use decisions for the next 20 years, including decisions that affect the environment, schools, transportation, housing and public safety. Pittman’s administration is giving county residents until November 15 to share their feedback.
“As the GDP is being developed, we recognize that it’s the start of a major planning effort in Anne Arundel County,” said Planning and Zoning Officer Steve Kaii-Ziegler. “It sets the footprint, the foundation for how we’ll do other planning efforts … it’s like doing planning from 30,000 feet.”
Pittman explained that the real “teeth” of the plan will come with nine subsequent regional plans, but he also said the all master plans and development regulations adopted subsequently by the county must be consistent with the goals, policies and recommendations of the GDP.
Past land use plans have been ignored by “developers, politicians and bureaucrats,” Pittman said. He vowed that this time will be different.
“They were pretty good plans with a vision for protecting our natural environment, doing smart growth, getting cars off the road, and alternative forms of transportation,” Pittman said of the last plans, implemented in the early 2000s. “My gripe was that those plans got stuck on a shelf and were not implemented. And the real decisions about land use were getting made during the subdivision approval process. They were getting made through modifications to circumvent our county laws.”
The newest draft of the GDP comes after nearly three years of work by the Department of Planning and Zoning, and two iterations of the Citizens Advisory Committee — one formed by former County Executive Steve Schuh, and one with some different representatives chosen by Pittman. CAC Chair Elizabeth Rosborg was part of both committees.
“One thing this GDP does that has not been done in the past is recognize peninsulas,” Rosborg said. “We are extremely excited and pleased that the county has recognized that peninsulas are different and should go through an approval process that is different.”
Citizens also had the opportunity in September to use an online community engagement portal, which Pittman called “way better than any video game that you’ve ever played,” to zoom in on their neighborhoods, see where land owners have requested changes in use for their properties, view the application and staff recommendations, and express their support or opposition to the change.
“The interactive map is incredible,” Rosborg said. “It provided so much information. The Planning and Zoning staff has really bent over backwards. They have been very good listeners.”
The Plan2040 draft has been released in two parts, a 97-page portion and a 274-page report with background information. Pittman said he doesn’t expect residents to read the entire document, just the parts that are important to them. Rosborg hopes that each community voices its unique concerns.
“I can’t look at every street, but you can look at your street and the neighborhood and roads that are important to you,” Rosborg said.
After the public comment period ends, the draft will be reviewed during meetings with the county Planning Advisory Board (PAB) in December and January.
“PAB looks at the big picture, at the entire county,” Rosborg said. “It deals with budget. It deals with law.”
Pittman will then submit the proposed plan to the county council, which has the final authority to adopt the plan. That is expected to occur in January or February 2021, with public hearings in March 2021.
Kaii-Ziegler emphasized that the plan is not law, so implementation needs to be done through zoning maps and legislation.
“The Department of Planning and Zoning, we are not set up to review every development application or deny every development application,” he said. “Our job is to apply the plans and the codes as they are currently written.”
After the GDP is adopted, the county will begin working on the nine regional plans. Kaii-Ziegler said Planning and Zoning has the resources to do three plans at a time, with each taking 18 to 36 months.
Rosborg encourages anyone with questions to contact her at email@example.com or send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. The public can download the GDP draft at www.aacounty.org/plan2040 and provide comments through an online questionnaire.
“Now is the time to make comments online,” Rosborg said. “People get upset when they see builders coming. They should get upset when they see the surveyor on the property and trees getting tagged.”