The National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, College Park, issued a report this week that concluded the smart growth framework that Maryland put in place  more than a decade ago has been insufficient and offered suggestions for improvement.

Barriers to Development Inside Priority Funding Areas: Perspectives of Planners, Developers, and Advocates” was based on interviews with 47 Maryland planners, developers and land-use advocates. NAIOP Maryland, which represents the commercial real estate industry, and the Maryland State Builders Association, which represents the state’s residential builders, developers, remodelers, suppliers and contractors, commissioned the study. The picture painted by the study was that various local and state regulations sometimes thwart smart growth by making it harder to develop in existing areas.

Its findings are at the heart of the rationale for PlanMaryland. The plan seeks to better align state policies so government isn’t acting at cross purposes to achieve the kind of smart growth already identified by State and local governments in Maryland as being important. Some of the same concerns the report described were raised last fall by the Urban Land Institute and the PlanMaryland work group of the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission as they reviewed the early drafts of PlanMaryland.

One of the more intriguing comparisons in the National Center report were the responses to the question of whether it was more difficult to develop inside or outside the Priority Funding Areas that were established in 1997 to encourage smarter growth. While about one-quarter of the planners surveyed (4 of 17) thought that developing outside a PFA was more difficult than inside due to the cost of providing infrastructure in a greenfield, none of the developers who responded thought building outside a PFA was more difficult than inside. As Governor Martin O’Malley said at a forum about PlanMaryland at the Maryland Association of Counties conference last summer, we’ve got to make “doing the right thing” easier.

One area the report didn’t cover was why any of this matters: It matters because low-density, large lot development generates more polluting runoff that degrades the Chesapeake Bay, an incalculably major resource for Maryland’s economy and quality of life. It matters because the cost of providing roads and schools to ever-widening patterns of development is a burden for taxpayers. And it matters because existing communities and commercial Main Streets are often weakened in the wake of sprawl growth.

The data, case studies and suggested policy changes in the study will help local governments and state agencies work with us on implementing PlanMaryland.