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Statement of We The People - Baltimore County on Master Plan 2030 Passage and Introduction of "Compromise" Bill

Last night, certain County Councilmembers cut out the legs from Master Plan 2030, while defeating the County Executive's companion bill to implement the Plan and address our crisis. While Councilmembers may be taking a victory lap, they shot themselves in the foot.

 

The crisis remains. It is systemic and it is real.

 

  1. Working families cannot afford homes - these are our teachers, nurses and first responders.

  2. We have a major glut of underperforming, low-quality commercial areas.

  3. We lack high-quality, attractive mixed-use communities that other jurisdictions have and our residents want.  

As a result, we are not attracting new investment or working families; we are losing them. For the first time since the 1920s census, Baltimore County registered a population loss during this most recent census.  This hurts our tax base, our workforce and our school performance, in the same way that it has hurt the City for decades.

 

Last night, we witnessed a retrenchment, and preservation of business as usual.  The Council passed Master Plan 2030, but not before cutting out the most important part of the plan -- the "Nodes."  The Nodes are those areas of the County that professional planners and the Planning Board all carefully selected as being ready for revitalization and reinvestment.  Nevertheless, the Council used something called "councilmanic courtesy" to allow multiple Councilmembers to strip Nodes from their individual districts. 

 

Councilmember Crandell went so far as to essentially remove his district from the Master Plan, without other Councilmembers objecting. And then he voted against the Master Plan anyway. While this may have spited County planners, this was harmful to his district.

 

Why is this all so important?  Because we must find a way to plan for growth and development for the long-term as One County, not as a series of fiefdoms run by individual councilmembers.  And because the Master Plan is not enforceable as a matter of law.  It is still just an aspirational document that requires legislation like Bill 3-24 to implement it, as Bill 3-24 would have tied future land use decisions to the Nodes themselves. 

 

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the "compromise" bill can fill the gap.  First, the compromise bill is allegedly going to be tied to the Nodes as well, but many of these are gone.  Second, the bill would simply create a new overlay district that may (or may not) be used by the Council at some undetermined point in the future.  It does not actually apply this overlay to any area of our County, leaving that to Councilmembers and their courtesies going forward.


Ultimately, notwithstanding real concerns with the rollout, we are grateful that the County Executive and his team proposed a progressive and forward-thinking Master Plan, and that they tried to make it meaningful by proposing implementing legislation. These are good building blocks for future administrations.

 

But, for now, the fight continues.  We should be a County where working families can live and thrive, and grow our tax base.  We cannot let the fear of change keep us stuck in our ways, where land use discussions are held behind closed doors, residents are surprised by developments and bad projects get built, all without addressing the crisis before us.

 

The Council must be held accountable for coming up with a real solution to our crisis. We need better than business as usual.  Our future depends on it.

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