PreserveCast S1E9: A Friend of Maryland is a Friend of Mine with Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland

04/09/2017
By Preservation Maryland

On this episode of PreserveCast, we’ll hear from Dru Schmidt-Perkins from 1000 Friends of Maryland about their advocacy on behalf of smart growth policies for Maryland. That includes comprehensive growth planning, rural land conservation and historic preservation, citing renewable energy, and creating the communities all Marylanders deserve.

[NICK REDDING] Hi, this is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. Clean, renewable energy provided through wind turbines and solar panels. Sounds pretty smart, right? How about farmland preservation, and curbing urban sprawl? That seems pretty smart, too. All of these are goals of the Smart Growth movement, which values both sustainability and preservation. Dru Schmidt-Perkins is heavily involved in smart growth through her work with 1000 Friends of Maryland, an advocacy organization dedicated to revitalizing Maryland’s communities. As we’ll hear in the interview, the work can be daunting, especially in regards to renewable energy sources and land use. Stay tuned to learn more about why wind turbines don’t always blow the preservationist’s way.

[INTRO/MUSIC] From preservation Maryland studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.

[NR] Hi, this is Nick Redding and you’re listening to PreserveCast. Dru Schmidt-Perkins is the Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a group that advocates for an environmentally and economically sustainable future for all Marylanders. Prior to joining 1000 Friends, she was the Maryland State and Chesapeake Regional Director of Clean Water Action for over 9 years. Dru has over 30 years of experience on a broad range of energy, growth, and environmental issues, gained while working on both the state and federal level. And we’re happy to have you here with us today at PreserveCast.

[DRU SCHMIDT-PERKINS] Thank you, happy to be here.

[NR] Thanks Dru. So 1000 Friends of Maryland, what should people know about it? What kind of group is this? Are there other groups like it across the country? What do you guys do?

[DSP] Well, with a 1,000 friends, clearly, we’re very, very popular! 1000 Friends is a smart growth group. And what does that mean? We believe that growth should be located where it does the most good, so revitalizing our existing communities, growing new communities that are effective for everybody to live, work, and play in them, preserving our rural areas, our historic structures.

[NR] So really just focused on that, and then also I guess playing a defensive game, trying to prevent what people call sprawl.

[DSP] Right, we don’t want new communities out in old cornfields [laughter].

[NR] Right, so I mean, sprawl gets thrown around a lot. Do you have a good definition for it? Is it sort of you know it when you see it? Or is there a real way of defining what sprawl is?

[DSP] I don’t know that there is a real, one specific – because it’s very locationally specific. So in some areas, it’s okay to have dispersed development, and other places, that would be completely out of context and be very damaging change, but good development is very based on what’s around it, what the community needs, and what was there before. So it’s complex and when done right, it benefits everybody: the environment, the community, the economy.

[NR] Right. And so, your work, that’s a big mission? It sounds really difficult, and in a state like Maryland, which I think a lot of people look to as having pretty progressive rules and regulations when it comes to growth, and we pride ourselves on being a smart growth state. Obviously you’ve had an impact on that. How do you guys do your work? You get up in the morning, what kind of programs, projects, mission – how does it work? How does it all come together?

The Bay Restoration Fund Fees and Uses bill passes, 2012.

[DSP] We started off very much focused on passing new policy or getting rid of bad policy at the state level. The kinds of rules, habits, traditions that grew Maryland in an expensive, unenvironmental, and bad for community way. Sort of abandoning old communities while building new communities out in rural areas. So we really looked to see at the state level, what was driving that. What were the rules, the policies that were driving that, and try to reverse those with incentives to redevelop, to grow in smarter ways that that resulted in communities that people could walk to a school or to get a gallon of milk, not be forced to have to drive forever on a crowded Beltway.

So, really, looking at the policies to either end bad ones or create new ones, we’ve quickly found that while we are very successful at passing laws that if we didn’t work at the local level, they were not being well-implement, that there needs to be a whole lot more work helping local organizations, local governments, figure out the best ways for them. So we’re spending both time in Annapolis and also in a number of local jurisdictions.

[NR] So your local efforts are almost like little campaigns, in a sense, where you go into a community, and you’re not going it alone, though. I mean, I know this because Preservation Maryland, obviously, has been partners on some of these projects. But what is an example of that? I mean, people listening to this podcast either come to us because they’re just interested in history, or they’re interested in preservation, or perhaps they work in the movement, and I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from what our colleagues in smart growth do and how they go about doing their work. So what does that mean you’re working in a community to try and impact this kind of change? What does that look like?

[DSP] So it very much begins with being invited in to a community by people who are worried about what’s happening, and often the worries are multi-faceted. They could be worried about things that are happening to the local creeks or waterways, how crowded their streets are, and we come in and help identify with local leaders who was the other local leaders? Who are the other groups that are working in the community that would be interested in a broad set of ideas, and would be able or willing to work together.

Then we jointly figure out what our campaign is. What do we want to work on? We have found by focusing around the very base development plan for a jurisdiction, for a county, where development will occur, where it won’t, gives us a really good platform for fighting a number of fights. Because if at the very base we are preserving, deciding to preserve, whole swaths of important farmland, and forests, and historic sites, that means we don’t have to keep fighting day after day to preserve them because they are preserved from the very beginning with the development plan for the community.

[NR] So it starts with good planning and being in on the ground floor. And I think that the historic preservation side, we see that a lot. And Preservation Maryland, we’ll get a call, and it’ll be they’re issuing the demo permit for something, and what can you do to help? And I’m sure the smart growth folks get where it’s, “Oh my god. They’re out there. They’re ready to build these houses. What can we do to stop it?” And, you’re too late.

[DSP] You’re too late.

[NR] You need to be involved at the outset. And so you guys really kind of play both the proactive active game in Annapolis and then sort of even like the reactive game where you’re trying to deal with how that planning is actually then going to take place in those local communities. And you’ve seen big impact with that, right?

[DSP] We just had a huge victory for a coalition of about 25 organizations in Charles County. It took about six years but have a plan that was a first time in that county’s history are going to protect the waterways, the historic waterways, like Port Tobacco, Mattawoman Watershed, focus development in the communities where there’s already water and sewer and roads, and for the first time protect the farmland from development. So it was a huge, huge victory in which each of the organizations, was the first time really had a major success for the mission of the organizations. Not a minor success, like they stopped a little bad project, but major one of protecting their whole watershed or their whole farm community. So, it was very exciting to see that we could work together and all win.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins with Josh Hasting of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and Nick Redding, 2016.

[NR] Right, and it takes a broad coalition to do that, and I think that the smart growth community definitely has embraced that, that they can’t go it alone, that people who consider themselves smart growth and passionate about smart growth are one subset, but then there are people who care about water, and there are people who care about ag and historic resources, and together they’re a pretty powerful voice because they make up a big chunk of that community, generally.

[DSP] A big chunk, and many of our organizations are small. And we can’t go it alone. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the staff, but when we work together, then, “Hey, this person’s a really great writer. This person has press experience. This person has technical experience and can read these documents. This person owns a boat, can get people out on the rivers.” And so together we have the resources, the talent to succeed where one organization wouldn’t necessarily have all those assets.

[NR] Well, we’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we’re going to talk with Dru about new technology that is challenging some of these paradigms, and putting preservation in a difficult place, and trying to figure out our way of dealing with the proliferation of a good technology, clean renewable energy, into historic ag areas, and how we deal with that, and how the smart growth movement is adapting to that new technology and to that challenge. We’ll be right back.


PRESERVATION EXPLANATION

And now it’s time for a preservation explanation:

Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast, you thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an email to podcast@presmd.org, and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.


[NR] Hi, this is Nick Redding and you’re listening to PreserveCast. I’m here today with Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland. We’ve been talking and really sort of dancing around this idea of sort of these traditional development issues. We’re talking about residential, commercial growth, things like that. And Dru and I have both seen the sort of a new actor come onto the stage, and a new challenge, and something for our community collectively to embrace. Which is…how do you deal with the proliferation of solar panels, wind turbines, which is a good thing, it creates a good product, clean renewable energy. Something we all need, but we’re seeing it happen in AG areas, and in historic landscapes, and in our state’s heritage areas. Is this something that smart growth groups are dealing with all across the country? It can’t just be Maryland, is that right? You’re hearing from your colleagues about this?

[DSP] It’s everywhere and it did come on really suddenly that we had the technology, we had the special incentives to build these large industrial sites of solar or wind, and then all of a sudden at the same time became the problem. And nobody was prepared to have the discussion of where’s the best place to put these sites. Where do they do the most good and the least harm. And for many people, the urgent need to have this renewable energy online and replacing the hugely climate polluting coal and oil seems to be more important that any other factor out there. And I think that the smart growth lessons that we have worked on for, “Where should housing go? Or transportation go?” are a great test for, “How do we actually solve this problem, too?

[NR] Right, because the net result of this problem is a good thing.

[DSP] Is a good thing, right.

Kent County landscape.

[NR] We normally are up against something where it’s like, okay, it’s housing for a person, but that house could also just as equally be built anywhere else. And the product of this is good. So it puts you and I, and we’ve been in many meetings about this, in sort of a difficult position. Because we both agree, clean energy = good thing. But citing it becomes a difficult thing, and it has put different colleague organizations and organizations that normally see completely eye-to-eye on issues, sort of in different positions. And so how do we get beyond that? I mean, what do you see moving forward here in Maryland? What have you seen across the country that could be ways of sort embracing the technology, but also saving these places that matter?

[DSP] Well, I think one of the first things that we did was to get into a room and learn from each other. Right? And so we needed to know what were the requirements of renewable energy. What do they need to succeed? The renewable energy folks needed to understand the concerns of the agriculture community. The preservation community needed to understand the limits of, could they really go on to preserve land or are there real legal reasons why that can’t happen? So learning from each other, I think, was really interesting. And I think many of us are much better informed about each other’s issues and so in a much better position to move forward than we were before we started.

[NR] Yeah. I feel like I am, and having gone through that process. And also, I think it’s a take away just for any type of policy issue –

[DSP] For anyone, learn! Learn from the other perspectives first, right.

[NR] Right. Invite in people who disagree with you and try and work your way through policy rather than just sort of, ramming something through. That you realize, “Oh, I guess we could have done something a little bit different,” and have the same result but everybody is happier at the end. And I think that’s a big take away, just generally.

[DSP] Well, and 1000 Friends started off doing a number of these type of complicated coalitions – bringing in all the different sides. And I used to be very disappointed when we didn’t get to 100% agreement and run that exact policy through. Then I realized that success is if we get to 80% agreement because we’ve just taken 80% of disagreement off the table. And we’ve done really good work on 80% of the way. And then there’s the final debate and that may have to be left up to the people who actually take the votes in County Council or on the Senate floor. That that final, “Do we go this way or this way?” may have to be there, but we have narrowed that debate down to a couple of go/no-go issues, very specific issues. And we have framed the rest of it so much better that the chance of those final votes being terrible are much less because we understand from each other. And that kind of happened this Fall.

[NR] Yeah, I think it did. And I also think you kind of walk away from a situation like that recognizing that there’s good intent all around. And that maybe you don’t agree on 100% of it, but you do agree on quite a bit of it. And I think you come to the next challenge perhaps, with those same partner organizations a little bit better informed about just kind of where they’re coming from.

[DSP] And these are long relationships, this is one issue. And I think we came down to, the more, faster, better. We want more renewable energy. We want it to come online faster with fewer fights and we want it in better locations. And so we definitely, all of us agreed on the first two –

[NR] Yeah, more and faster. [laughter]

[DSP] And it’s a better location, that still is tough for some of the people who are not used to the whole land use side of things to grasp that everything is actually up against a plan that says where things can and cannot go, and those plans currently don’t speak to energy sites. So we have to build those in, and we need to build them in a way that’s there, that’s in a place that renewable energy can be actually cited and used.

[NR] Right. You don’t want to – you don’t want to say, “Oh, yeah. You get to be here. It’s on the side of this mountain,” and you can’t put a solar panel. So again, it needs to be an actual place where it can really be developed. And then also there was the discussion about, perhaps, incentives to try and drive solar development into those places or to make certain sort of easy to build places, easier to build than –

[DSP] Even easier.

[NR] Even easier, right?

[DSP] And I think that those – when you first start talking to people about this, they sort of fall into a couple kinds, right? “We just need it. Farms, great, go. Look at this. It’s beautiful.” And then the other ones, “Why are they putting it there? Put it on rooftops.” And rooftops are great and we need much more, and there’s absolutely no reason why a building built today is not solar compatible. Sorry, no reason. Let’s try and figure out how we move that forward in the future.

 

Photo from the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance.

[NR] But it can’t take care of all of our issues.

[DSP] It can’t. So then we have to look for the large scale, so where should we put them? Well, Maryland has 100,000 acres of dumps, Superfund sites, brownfield sites, land that’s been contaminated.

[NR] Pretty marginal stuff?

[DSP] Right. It’s already usually flat, clear, often near energy grids or power lines because of what they were. So let’s use those. Well, they’re technically complicated at times to make sure it’s safe to install something. So why are we not –

[NR] It’s easier to go to a farm because you know it’s clean?

[DSP] Yeah. Farms are always easier, right!? They have been the target of every development ever; a mall, a shopping center, because the farmer does the hard work of clearing that land. It’s nice, it’s flat, it’s ready.

[NR] Right, and they normally have grown crops there because it drains pretty well too.

[DSP] Right, so it’s perfect. So the solar industry is just – or the wind industry is the latest to identify this perfect land for them and yet another one who has to learn, “Well, let’s find a better place” and we can.

[NR] So where do you think were headed with that? Do you think that Maryland – I mean, there’s been some states. I know Vermont, New Jersey has some work on this. Do you see Maryland headed in a good direction on that? Do you think we can be a leader in this or is it too tall a reach for us at this point?

[DSP] I think we’re heading towards figuring this out. We’re working at two levels. At the local level, a lot of counties are going, “Wow. Where should this go? Where should we put these things?” and are struggling.

PRESERVATION MARYLAND PROJECT IN KENT COUNTY

Solar farms threaten the Kent County rural landscape.

[NR] Right, and Preservation Maryland is actually involved in a project through our Six-to-Fix program. We are working with a group in Kent County on Maryland’s eastern shore to try and work through this issue with them as well, where they’ve actually – in this situation they have a solar developer who came in and who’s going on land that is explicitly not zoned for this kind of use and have appealed to the state to try and get that zoning. And they’ve been denied that now and there could be an appeal process. And this isn’t good for anyone, right? This violates that faster piece – this is not fast.

[DSP] Here’s a great county who’s worked so hard to preserve its farmland, very strategically, thoughtfully, its historic towns. I mean, they’ve really done tremendous work over decades to make it so beautiful. I was in the hearing where the wind industry said, “We looked at a map and we found this empty place.” We see it as a land that’s full – and full of history and environment and food, – and other industries sees an empty place. So aligning those two visions is important.

But they also were very proactive and said, “Renewable energy’s coming. Where do we want it?” And this county actually said, “We want it here.” They actually identified locations, so during the three years the fight on this one site, where we would both agree it is a wrong site for a major industrial solar field, has been going on, two other major solar sites have been built in the area that that the county wanted.

[NR] Right and no one objected to that, and that’s okay.

[DSP] They went through fast. So we can do this. And there will be legislation in the General Assembly this year that’s looking to do that. The process that we were – part of helped shape that legislation from counties get to say whatever they want, to a much broader piece of legislation.

[NR] Yeah, nuanced.

[DSP] And the hearing is going to be fascinating. And whether we get it through this year or not, I don’t know. But meanwhile, we’ll be working with Baltimore County, and Talbot County, and Howard County and all these other places to try to figure out what’s right for them. How do we identify the best places, make it go faster there, and make it clear where it shouldn’t be?

[NR] Yeah. Tough work, but I guess we’ll have to bring you back. To be continued on that one.

[DSP] We’ll win. We’ll do it. Everybody can win on this!

THE BEST VISTA IN MARYLAND

View of St. Ann’s in Annapolis. Photo by Christina Csaszar, 2016.

[NR] That’s the spirit. So as we kind of draw to a conclusion here, we try and ask everyone at – who drops in on PreserveCast what is their favorite building in Maryland, which is a tough one for people who work in this, and love historic places, and love Maryland. So we’re going to land that same tough question on you. What is it, Dru?

[DSP] So here’s how I drive, okay? I drive so I get to look at beautiful things [laughter]. So I don’t go the fastest way. So I’m oh, I want to see that building over there or that field over there. So I love the State House, I love coming down Rowe Boulevard and seeing that. I love the small, funny little alleys that you just want to cross in Baltimore suddenly and with the quirky charm. I have just so many. I mean, my head just pops with these lovely places.

[NR] Yeah. Although, it’s interesting and our producer, Stephen here, has listened in on all of these and the State House comes up time and time again – and time again for different reasons. People love the view of it, they love the view of it. When you walk in Annapolis and you kind of catch a view of it up that little alley. Yeah, I mean, those are always cool.

[DSP] So here’s my secret best part of the State House. You go into the old State House, you look up into the dome, and it’s like being in the inside of a wedding cake.

[NR] It really is.

[DSP] It is magical. And when I see a little school group or a group of tourists heading from Montana or something, I’m like,” Come, come, come with me. Let me show you this.” And sometimes kids just lie down on the marble, they’ll look up. It’s really quite extraordinary.

[NR] All right, well, I guess this might be the State House again then in that case [laughter]. Dru, if people want to get in touch with you or they want to learn more about 1000 Friends, where can they go?

[DSP] Well, we, of course, have the website at friendsofmd.org. We’re in Baltimore in historic Mount Vernon in a lovely 1883 building that is probably one of the most charming offices ever.

[NR]Second favorite building, I guess!

[DSP] Maybe second favorite. It depends on what work has to be done in the building at the time.

[NR] Understood. Well Dru, it’s been a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for coming in and thank you for all the work that you do. As a Marylander, I think all of our lives are better, because you’re in Annapolis making sure that someone’s watching over the state and making sure that smart growth is a priority, so thank you for that.

[DSP] Well, thank you for being such a great partner. We do have fun.

CREDITS

You don’t need to open a history book to find us, and available online from iTunes Store and the Google Play Store, as well as our website, presmd.org. This is PreserveCast.

This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our Executive Producer is Aaron Marcavitch from Maryland Milestones Heritage Area.

Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website, prettygrittymusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @pg_prettygritty.

To learn more about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guest, visit preservationmaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @preservationmd. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving.

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