By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
A half dozen state officials came to Cecil County on Tuesday, spending the afternoon and evening in listening sessions with elected officials, county staff and the community.
Halfway through his term as Governor, Larry Hogan is working to see that a new state development plan is enacted.
It all started with an executive order last August, explained Wendy Peters, Special Secretary for Smart Growth. The goal is to work with local jurisdictions to move the state forward and use the state funding as efficiently as possible.
Some local officials were a bit skeptical. Cecil County has been in the proverbial dog house with state planners since the legislature enacted Senate Bill 236 a few years ago. That Plan Maryland legislation decreed that each county would have a four-level tier map that would govern development. State planners sent a suggested map and local officials did not like it because it would have severely restricted future development in the county.
County officials, who stated their resolve that Cecil County folks would determine the future of their own county, started drafting their own tier maps with the county board unable to decide on which one to submit to the state. County Executive at the time, Tari Moore, submitted a tier map that put all land currently in parkland or preserved status into the most restricted land use tier and left many areas of the county open for development. Moore said she needed to preserve the rights of property owners.
The state did not look kindly at the Cecil County tier map. Although the state was not able to veto the map, the county was told that large development plans would have to go through the state, not just county review. Major conflicts did not happen because the recession deflated development throughout the state.
With the tier map issues, county officials at the listening meeting this week asked when SB 236, which is still the law in Maryland, would be dismantled through state legislation. They were told that new proposed legislation would be proposed after the executive order process results in conclusions for a new plan for Maryland – which will take a little more than a year to complete.
State officials told the elected officials there is no agenda and that the plan for Maryland will come from interactions with county officials, town officials and citizens. They have already had listening sessions in more than a dozen towns.
County Council President Joyce Bowlsbey said that any plan from the state for Cecil County needs to align with the county’s comprehensive and strategic plans.
“I think that’s really important,” Bowlsbey said.
She also said getting the MARC train line to go completely through the county is a goal and that the state needs to help the county deal with the expected traffic that will try to get through Cecil County to avoid the tolls that Delaware will be putting on Route 301.
The Council President said the county could use help with delivering broadband service to more residents. County officials also need some information as to how solar farms and chicken farms are being handled throughout the state.
Bowlsbey told the state planners that Cecil County has been developing parkland and supporting land preservation.
“I think we have been true stewards of the land,” she said.
Representatives from every town were at the state listening session.
Jean Minner, Elkton’s chief planner, said the top issues for the town include: train service, infrastructure expansion, getting sidewalks on state land, getting more Open Space funding and more funding for historic preservation.
North East Administration Melissa Cook-Mackenzie said infrastructure is a major concern for the town as is the need for right-of-ways for sidewalks.
The state is working to plan improvements for Main Street in Port Deposit and town administrator Vicky Rinkerman said the town needs the state to relax some of their rigid state road standards when they come through a main street. The town wants to maintain their granite walkways and character as a main street. Rinkerman also said the state needs to improve the MD 222 bridge over I-95 to help future development at Bainbridge.
Perryville could use infrastructure improvements to assist with future residential and business development, administrator Denise Breder said. The MARC train service is very popular and additional trains and weekend service would be helpful, she added.
Several officials came to support Rising Sun’s interests. Town Commissioner Dave Warnick said the town needs to be able to grow, even though it is north of the county’s designated growth corridor.
Calvin Bonenburger, the town’s administration, praised the assistance the state has given the town. Noting that the economic downtown lowered the property values and tax receipts for jurisdictions, the administrator said that whatever the state does, they have to consider what unintended consequences it will have for towns.