Smart Growth Policy

Smart Growth is generally described as a public policy approach to land development and planning meant to achieve more livable communities, use resources wisely, and protect the environment. The Maryland Association of REALTORS® leads the way in pursuing an improved quality of life in Maryland. MAR's five guiding principles show the way for all concerned parties to have a voice in the Smart Growth process. These principles have one focus, "to enhance the quality of life for all."


PRINCIPLE ONE:
PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS

We support the protection of property rights or interest of an individual in lands. Real property rights include possession, control, enjoyment, and disposition.

Protection of private property rights is important to REALTORS and the public.

We believe in the fundamental right of all private property owners to determine the highest and best use of their land, working through appropriate government entities.

Government shall not arbitrarily infringe on the basic right of the individual to acquire, possess and freely transfer real property, and shall protect private property rights as referred to in the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution. Any weakening of the 5th Amendment should be vigorously opposed. Any legislative effort to expand property rights and ease a property owners' ability to have their takings case heard in federal court should be supported.

We recognize the need for all levels of government to be able to exercise legitimate police powers in the regulation of private property to protect the health, safety and general welfare of its citizens. However, when government actions do not allow the owner the opportunity to develop and use property in an economically productive and profitable way, the government should be required to pay compensation for the inordinate burden levied on the property owner.

Every person should have the right to acquire real property with confidence and certainty that the use or value of such property will not be wholly or substantially eliminated by government action at any level. At the heart of the issue is the Constitutional guarantee codified in the Fifth Amendment that private property cannot be taken without just compensation.

PRINCIPLE TWO:
HOUSING OPPORTUNITY: CHOICE AND AFFORDABILITY

Housing is a fundamental human right. Homeownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream. Maryland must continue to place a variety of housing choices and opportunity at the forefront for all citizens, and encourage affordable housing which is critical to the success of vibrant and diverse communities.

Maryland Association of REALTORS® Recommended Solutions:

1. Protect Affordability: In the pursuit of Smart Growth policies, Maryland must continue to:

  • Vigorously promote housing affordability.
  • Ensure adequate supply of land in reserve areas to meet forecasted housing demand driven by strong economic growth.
  • Measure/forecast the impact of development policy choices (moratoria, downzoning, urban growth boundaries) on housing affordability.
  • Expand programs like the Maryland Mortgage Program, and the Down Payment and Settlement Expense Program under the DHCD.

2. Promote Housing Choice: Encourage long-term development plans that not only permit development of affordable housing, but that offers a variety of housing choice (rentals, smaller homes and lots etc). Reduce regulatory barriers to home rehabilitation, and promote programs like the Maryland Housing Rehabilitation Program for Single Family homes; the Community Housing Support Program; and the Special Targeted Applicant Rehabilitation Program (STAR).

PRINCIPLE THREE:
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

MAR recognizes the need to preserve important environmental resources and open space. We believe this need is best met through incentive-based measures, public-private partnerships, and innovative preservation techniques. We support policies that provide due process and balance the protection of our environment with the needs of communities.

Maryland Association of REALTORS® Recommended Solutions:

1. Land-use Planning: Pursue policies that recognize the importance and interrelationship between environmental protection, economic development, safe and efficient transportation systems, intergovernmental cooperation, and affordable housing of all members of the public. Pursue policies that strike a fair and reasonable balance between private property rights and community interests.

2. Protection of Water Resources:

  • Make variance processes under the critical areas and wetlands law less daunting through continued improvements in time lines for decision-making.
  • Ensure fairness and accountability in determining what types of wetlands are regulated, with priority given to preserving high-value wetlands. Implement mitigation banking and other market-driven mitigation activities.
  • Continue a fair approach to well testing that ensures the public's safety, manages the aquifer's capacity, and balances communities growth needs.
  • Improve municipal treatment of wastewater and overflows.
  • Provide tax incentives to improve septic systems throughout the state.

3. Open Space Preservation/Farmland PROTECTION: Focus on incentive based measures to preserve open space and farmland funded by general revenues instead of real estate transfer taxes. Focus on TDR, purchase of development rights/easements, tax incentives, public purchase by general revenue and other incentive based measures for preservation.

4. Clean up of Contaminated Areas: Continue to pursue a proactive brownfields program that reduces the liability and risks associated with purchasing and developing contaminated properties. Pursue greater governmental assistance for mitigation and environmental assessment of sites.

PRINCIPLE FOUR:
IMPLEMENTATION OF FAIR AND REASONABLE PUBLIC SECTOR MEASURES REGULATING SMART GROWTH

Smart growth policies should embrace higher density and mixed use development. Flexibility must be implemented in existing ordinances which are at odds with such goals.

Maryland Association of REALTORS Recommended Solutions:

1. Master Plans, Comprehensive Plans, Zoning Ordinances etc.: Review existing laws that are inconsistent with the fundamental goals of increased density and mixed-use development.
2. Encourage an Open and Inclusive Planning Process: Make the community planning process as inclusive a process as possible at the start of planning decisions, so that efficiencies can be achieved during implementation of projects.
3. Create Inventory of Buildable Lots: Conduct an inventory of buildable lots for all choices of housing, business, industrial, and manufacturing to project receiving areas for future population and economic growth.
4. Pursue Balanced, Equitable and Fair Financing of Infrastructure Needs: Pursue incentive programs that may include SADs (voluntary), tax incentives, or easing of regulatory requirements such as exactions.
5. Introduce a Greater Degree of Certainty in the Development Review Process: Examine time limits for approvals, pre-approved densities and land use. Regulations limiting land use must also be adopted through a process, which is expeditious and objectively fair to the owner, and they must also substantially advance legitimate and generally acceptable public values
6. Donate Public Vacant Land for Affordable Housing: Affordable housing can be achieved by granting vacant public-owned land for construction of low and moderate income housing.
7. Pursue Mixed-Use Development: Utilize mixed-use development, placing people in a "community" setting. (SEE COMMUNITY ENHANCEMENT SECTION)
8. Review Building Codes: Recommend full implementation of Smart Codes.

The goals of "Smart Growth" can only be achieved if the regulatory agencies, community/civic groups, and businesses work together to adopt the techniques of "Smart Growth."

PRINCIPLE FIVE:
COMMUNITY ENHANCEMENT

Smart Growth policies should contain the following concepts for all communities in the state of Maryland:

1. Form sustainable communities.
2. Develop attractive, identifiable communities
3. Revitalize older communities
4. Develop infill sites
5. Reinforce commercial, employment and civic centers
6. Enhance communities through public facilities and services.

Maryland Association of REALTORS® Recommended Solutions:

1. Promote focal areas that will strengthen existing communities and provide attractive landmarks or gathering places. This would include both civic and commercial focal points.
2. Encourage the use of public space in commercial developments, public facilities and small mixed-use development. This involves possible parks and green open spaces as a focal point and design guidelines. Promote and expand efforts like the Office/Commercial Space Conversion Initiative under the Department of Housing and Community Development.
3. Promote new mixed-use focal areas that are in scale and character with their content. Consider revisions to local zoning ordinances that would encourage well-designed mixed-use areas for both residential and commercial. These must be based on specific standards and guidelines so as not to be arbitrary, and should try to avoid additional layers of regulation.
4. Reinforce the role of existing historical mixed-use areas.
5. Encourage the continuing evolution and growth of downtown centers. Encourage residential development in downtown areas as well as the redevelopment of older properties by improving transit connections, transit integration (i.e. bus transfer points), and develop open space centers. Promote cities as cultural centers, improve the infrastructure and promote well-designed directional signage to orient people to the downtown areas. (DHCD's Main Street Maryland Program)
6. Ensure infill development will be compatible with existing neighborhoods. This may include amending the Zoning and Land Development Regulations to insure infill development is compatible with adjacent neighborhoods, but that does not arbitrarily restrict overall goals of mixed-used development.
7. Establish the tools needed to implement community conservation and revitalization programs. Adopt/encourage appropriate property reinvestment incentive program (circuit breaker tax incentives, Community Legacy Programs, Neighborhood Partnership Program etc)
8. Make existing commercial centers and strip commercial-industrial corridors more efficient and attractive, and give them a more positive role in communities. Create incentives to improve their design, size, location etc. (Possibly expanded Main Street Maryland program)
9. Use public infrastructure, buildings and services to enhance older communities. Develop maintenance and replacement programs to maintain the quality of state facilities. Use community planning to determine how best to enhance each community, through new or improved school infrastructure, facilities and services. Plan for storm water management in developed areas that lack these facilities or need retrofitting of existing facilities. Seek sites for new or replacement public facilities with or adjacent to commercial centers.
10. Use transit as a means of community enhancement. Reduce inappropriate pass-through traffic in residential areas. Serve community needs for pedestrian/bicycle facilities. Improve transportation in the State by alleviating congested routes through a combination of road building, creative peak flow management, and public mass transit.
11. Continue historic preservation programs. Continue Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit.