On April 13, nearly 250 people spent their Saturday with community representatives and professional planners to discuss the future of Anne Arundel County. The workshop, Visioning Anne Arundel, was the kickoff for the enhanced General Development Plan (GDP) process.
The most important component of community planning is the community – and I was inspired to see the turnout and the energy in the room. During my opening remarks, I emphasized that this was the most important task we’ve undertaken since the election. The decisions we make in the upcoming GDP will live with us for decades to come and it is imperative that we get them right.
We have a dedicated and talented team at our Office of Planning and Zoning who are working hard to apply a fair, open and transparent process that communities trust and have a say in. To help them, we brought in national experts from Smart Growth America, a nonprofit organization that assists local government with responsible planning policies. Former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening and his team shared best practices and models from around the country to show us what success looks like and how to achieve it.
It’s fair to say that Anne Arundel County has grown quickly over the last 10 years. Our population has been rising by about 1% annually since 2010, but the demand on our services is rising much faster. Fire and ambulance call volumes are rising closer to 5% per year. And don’t get me started on traffic. These are the consequences of rapid growth without the infrastructure to support it.
We’ve allowed this to happen, but now it’s time to change the rules. Our GDP will map out a responsible, community-based plan to direct growth where we want it – and away from the areas we don’t. We will get back to Small Area Plans to protect the character of our communities, and we will use some new planning tools to help us do all of this.
Our partners in this effort will be the reconstituted Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). In March, we announced our new CAC, which has community representatives from each of the county’s former 16 Small Areas. We selected people capable of bringing their neighbors together to get engaged in the process; they are community leaders whose livelihoods do not depend on developing land. We also appointed developers and environmental advocates to at-large seats to ensure that their voices are heard.
I believe citizens should know what is being planned in their communities. We are working to better equip communities with information by putting development plans and proposals online, and we are pursuing legislation to give better legal standing to communities to challenge planning decisions that they think are inconsistent with adopted planning guidelines.
We’re working with Governor Larry Hogan’s administration to acquire the Crownsville Hospital Center, which is currently owned by the state Department of Health. The hospital center property, along with the adjacent Bacon Ridge Natural Area, is a green oasis in the heart of our county – and I want to keep it that way.
Along with saving green space from development, we must also preserve our agriculture lands and working farms, which are an important part of our landscape and our heritage. While we work to address our traffic choke points, we must enhance our entire transportation network to give people more options and mobility.
These are the challenges we face as we build our General Development Plan. It’s a daunting task, but that’s why I’ve reached out to the community for help. Working together, we can make Anne Arundel County “the best place,” now and in the future.