Understanding Planning in Maryland

States have enabling statutes that provide local governments planning and zoning authority and the tools to guide and regulate community development compatible with military operations. Generally, states have two roles relative to planning including enabling or requiring local governments to act by statute and by setting statewide policy. Some states such as Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, also have laws that further promote compatible military-community development to prevent adverse impacts to military operations.

Legal Basis for Planning in Maryland

The Maryland General Assembly has delegated planning and land use regulatory powers to local governments through the Land Use Article of the Maryland Annotated Code. In addition to delegating planning and regulatory powers to local governments, several initiatives have helped shape Maryland's renowned community planning framework. To learn more about how the Maryland Department of Planning has helped implement this planning framework, please refer to the department's Annual Reports.

1992 Economic Growth, Resource Protection, and Planning Act

The 1992 Economic Growth, Resource Protection, and Planning Act outlines the state's growth policy through visions centered on concentrating development in suitable areas, protecting sensitive areas, and establishing funding mechanisms to achieve the visions. It also requires jurisdictions to address these same visions in their comprehensive plans.

Priority Funding Areas Act of 1997

The 1997 Priority Funding Areas Act directs state funding for growth-related infrastructure to geographically designated Priority Funding Areas (PFAs). PFAs are existing communities and places where local governments want state support for future growth. Growth-related projects include most state programs that encourage growth and development, such as roadways, sewer and water facilities, economic and community development assistance, and leases or construction of state offices. Criteria for growth include permitted development density, water and sewer availability, and a designation as a growth area in a locality's comprehensive plan. Learn more about PFAs in the state agencies section.

The Critical Area Act

The Critical Area Act, passed in 1984, regulates development impacts and human activity on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Subsequent legislation incorporated coastal bays into this law. The law addresses land uses and development intensity within 1,000 feet of the tidal influence on coastal bays and tributaries. The Critical Area Act classified land according to the level of development intensity in 1984 and the Critical Area Commission established criteria to minimize adverse effects of human activities on water quality and natural habitats. Jurisdictions within the Critical Area must adopt Critical Area Management Programs, designed to foster more sensitive development.

2009 and 2010 Planning Legislation

The Smart and Sustainable Growth Act, passed in 2009, clarifies the link between local comprehensive plans and local land use ordinances by defining “consistency” and stating when implementing acts must be consistent with the local plan. In the same year, the Maryland General Assembly also passed legislation to update Maryland's planning visions, require local planning commissions and boards to submit annual reports to local legislative bodies and the state, and to establish a statewide land use goal of increasing growth within the PFA.

The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 strengthens investment in Maryland's older communities through the establishment of the Sustainable Communities Program, which streamlined the designation of areas eligible for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development's neighborhood revitalization capital grants. These same areas are given preference for certain Maryland Department of Transportation grant programs, the Maryland Department of the Environment Water Quality Revolving Loan Fund, and certain tax credits.

These initiatives provide local governments important strategies and tools to promote sustainable development across Maryland. The National Smart Growth Information Clearinghouse and the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth provide guidance on effective growth, conservation, and preservation practices that can help communities guide development that is compatible with military operations and supports economic growth.

Local Government Authority to Control Land Use

Nearly all land use planning tools impact growth and development. Not only do they promote public health, safety, and general welfare, but they are key to managing and guiding compatible development, in support of continued military operations. These planning tools can help communities achieve their community development goals and objectives, including:

  • Quantity and type of growth and development
  • Cost of growth
  • Location and direction of growth
  • Timing of growth
  • Development character

Regardless of the tool, local planning commissions typically act in an advisory role, while elected officials, a city or county council, adopt comprehensive plans, development regulations, and zoning ordinances and maps. Refer to Planning Tools to Guide Compatible Community Development to learn what types of tools impact specific growth metrics.

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