When Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman held a ceremonious bill signing in Odenton on May 13 for the General Development Plan, known as Plan 2040, he was joined by four members of the county council. County Council Chairwoman Sarah Lacey (District 1) and councilmembers Allison Pickard (District 2), Andrew Pruski (District 4) and Lisa Rodvien (District 6) attended. The other three councilmembers were noticeably absent.
“Plan 2040 does something that’s very rare in government — it transfers power from the government to the people,” Pittman said in a statement. “It literally puts the people first. I want to thank councilmembers Lacey, Pickard, Pruski and Rodvien for their support for this legislation, and our residents and community leaders, who this plan empowers moving forward.”
A guiding document for the next 20 years of land use, Plan 2040 was passed after some controversial debate among the council. About 128 amendments were included and several of those were packaged together, Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler explained during the Greater Severna Park Council (GSPC) meeting on May 11.
“We had to be transparent, we had to be diligent, we had to present everything to the public individually,” Fiedler said. “One of my colleagues wanted to bundle amendments … about a dozen land-use changes were introduced as a bundle, and we couldn’t vote yay on some and nay on others … so I voted against the entire bundle. It was a very difficult vote for me to take because I put so much work into the bill, but I felt like those residents were not served, and that was unsettling to me.”
For Lacey and others who supported the General Development Plan, the bill creates a framework for community involvement in the land use process. That community involvement will come in the next step: nine region plans across the county.
“Plan 2040 reflects the culmination of a rigorous legislative process where the council worked with the people to ensure our communities come first in the planning and zoning process," Lacey said. "Along with County Executive Pittman and my colleagues who voted in support of this legislation, I remain committed to empowering our communities and our residents through this bill - by giving power back to the people.”
Not everyone feels that power is going back to the people. GSPC’s vice president of public affairs, Amy Leahy, was a Citizens Advisory Committee member who attended meetings for two years, giving input on the wishes of Anne Arundel County residents and, in particular, those who live in Severna Park.
“A handful of CAC members present for our last Zoom meeting, when asked if they agreed with the plan and the process, said they felt the process was administration driven, not community driven, and their concerns were not addressed,” Leahy said. “They therefore refused to ‘sign off’ on the draft plan.”
The CAC meetings included a year’s worth of background information on county departments, yet the CAC did not have enough time to work on the actual plan, Leahy said.
“When the county council has to pass something as important as the General Development Plan, it should be able to set the pace, but the administration took up so much of the lead time, it ‘ran out of time,’” Leahy said.
The 23-person CAC lost about half of its membership along the way, for various reasons.
Pittman praised the plan as one that shifts away from sprawling growth and toward smarter, more focused redevelopment of existing urban areas, including town centers and areas surrounding mass transit stations.
When GSPC meeting attendees asked about Pittman’s plans for Severna Park, he was straightforward.
“We don’t want to develop in Severna Park; Severna Park is built out,” Pittman said. “However, Odenton’s not. There are places out by Laurel … it’s a big puzzle figuring out how it all works.”
All eyes are now on the region plans, which will be completed three at a time. District 5 — which includes Severna Park, Arnold, Cape St. Claire, Pasadena and Gibson Island — is part of Region 4. This region is scheduled to be included in the first round of plans.
Each county councilmember will appoint someone to serve on a stakeholder advisory committee, which will examine land use trends, infrastructure, environmental features and more.
“The General Development Plan provides us with a path toward the future,” Pruski said. “While there is a lot of work still left to do, there is a roadmap that can help us with conservation, smart growth, and sustainability in Anne Arundel County.”