Less Autonomy for Planning Commissions: What does it mean for Charles County’s Comp. Plan?

Chapter 10 – Buried in the 942 bills introduced by Delegates and 1,292 bills introduced by Senators were two bills passed by the 2015 General Assembly that change the way growth planning policies are established by local governments. Historically, the statutes have given local Planning Commissions (PC) total autonomy for the content of comprehensive plans. The Board of Commissioners (BOC) was supposed to approve the plan, but were powerless to change it. While the local elected officials were responsible for policies in almost every other category, growth management policy was the domain of the appointed PC with no accountability to anyone.

Delegate Stephen Lafferty (D), District 42A, Baltimore County, and Senator Jim Rosapepe (D), District 21, PG and AA Counties, sponsored cross-filed bills in their respective chambers. From the beginning, the two bills were essentially identical with one primary purpose – to give local legislators the power to change comprehensive plans developed by their PC. Support around Maryland was quiet, but overwhelming, as reflected by the final votes on the floor of both General Assembly chambers: 139-1 in the House and 46-0 in the Senate.

So, after October 1, if PGM staff, the PC and the consultant can’t get it right this time, the BOC can step in and fix our beleaguered draft plan themselves. You may remember that several months ago, they asked for a chance to review and discuss the issues before the last failure. But the PC ignored their request, flexed their muscles and sent it thru the process again. These two bills have essentially solved that problem by taking full autonomy away from the PC and giving it to the BOC where it rightly belongs since they are ultimately responsible for setting public policy.

Keep in mind that the success of this new approach only improves policies in Charles County if a majority of the BOC is dedicated to furthering public interests and associated quality-of-life goals instead of the profit margins of the development industry. If you’ve been watching our new Board at work, you must see the new law as a gift from the General Assembly to the citizens of Charles County.

The timing is absolutely perfect!

Read more from our ongoing series, “Charles County’s Comprehensive Plan fiasco.”