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Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is committed to preserving and sustaining the vibrant communities of the Eastern Shore and the lands and waters that connect them.

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ESLC Presents at Maryland Association of Counties’ Housing Symposium

Think of our iconic Eastern Shore towns and what comes to mind? Main Streets unchanged for a century or more, and historic districts with vibrant pasts and strong futures. This is where tourists spend their time and money, where residents ‘shop local,’ and where farmer’s markets thrive on the weekend. Many Eastern Shore towns have created special zoning districts and historic commissions with the sole task of protecting the integrity of these downtowns. Yet outside of the historic district? Decades of planning and zoning rules have made replicating this style of development virtually impossible.

On Wednesday, October 19, ESLC’s Director of Land Use and Policy, Owen Bailey, participated on the environmental panel of Maryland Association of Counties’ (MACO) Housing Symposium. This one-day event was attended by county officials and housing professionals and one of the main focuses among the panels was the impact local planning and zoning ordinances have on housing supply, costs, and the environment.

Queen Anne’s County Planning and Zoning Director, Amy Moredock, noted logistical challenges like infrastructure, water and sewer limitations, and school capacity as a few of the forces that affect housing development and costs. New housing developments are not just about building homes — the life support systems around them are an important part of the equation. This underscores one of the most important roles that planning and zoning and comprehensive planning can play.

Nationally, 62 percent of housing is single-family. Throughout the Eastern Shore that percentage climbs to between 75 percent and 90 percent. This imbalance does not exist because of preference or market response. It was built in accordance with our land use ordinances that strictly required it. Most residential zoning, whether in a county or municipality, is zoned single-family,  eliminating the ability to adapt to changing market and environmental forces, and increasing the pressure on farmland conversion and sprawl development.

As Moredock noted in her presentation, the Affordable Housing Committee in Queen Anne’s County categorized the need to allow for a greater range of housing types as important and urgent. It is in our interest to work through comprehensive planning processes, through planning and zoning offices, through open community discussions to better understand the true impact on housing in each unique community, and to seek goals and priorities like Queen Anne’s County has done. This is one way each jurisdiction can fight this housing crisis, unsustainable development, and environmental issues at the same time.

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