The Importance of Compatible Use Planning

Planning in Progress

by Tom Evans, Office of Military and Federal Affairs (OMFA), Maryland Department of Commerce, and Kristen Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner

What is Compatible Use Planning?

In the most general terms, compatible use planning (also called compatibility planning) refers to working to ensure that both existing and planned land uses and activities are carefully considered  to reduce or eliminate adverse effects on (or in the best case scenario, to actually enhance and support) neighboring or nearby land uses.

Some prime examples are: planning that identifies land uses that are tolerant of or less sensitive to noise when planning development near a highway or airport, such as shopping malls, office space, or industrial activity vs. residential neighborhoods, schools, parks or perhaps an ecologically sensitive area.

In July’s edition of Planning Practice Monthly, we discussed the topic of compatible use planning specifically as it relates to enhancing collaboration and communication of Maryland’s 12 military installations with surrounding communities. Together with the Department of Commerce (Commerce), the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) is playing an important role in in these efforts. 

Aided by funding from the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA), Commerce and Planning completed the Maryland Statewide Joint Land Use Study Response Implementation Strategy (SJRIS) in 2019. The SJRIS has provided Maryland with a strategic approach, in coordination with local governments, to address compatibility issues at a state level.

In June 2020, Commerce, Planning, and several other state agencies were awarded a second federal grant of $1.12 million to help guide and implement the SJRIS to compatible development of military installations and their surrounding communities.

The new funds will support the development of a State of Maryland Military Communities Compatible Use website; a planning coordination guidebook for local communities; and a Renewable Energy Siting project that will include the creation of publicly available maps that display areas where renewable energy projects may or may not be compatible with the missions of Maryland military installations.

Commerce is leading the Renewable Energy Siting Study, while Planning is overseeing the development of the website and handbook. The goal of these efforts is “to ensure that military activities do not adversely impact the quality of life in their communities and that development in the communities does not encroach on installation activities.”

Why is Compatible Use Planning so important – what happens if it is not employed?

Without compatible use planning, considerable amounts of time, energy and other resources may be wasted. A notable example is that of the Great Bay Wind Energy Project which was proposed to be built on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Somerset County, Maryland.

In December 2012, Pioneer Green Energy (PGE)[i] proposed to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that 40 wind turbines be erected in Somerset County. It sounded like a terrific project that would create an impressive amount of clean, green energy. However, the chosen location was directly across the Bay from one of the state’s military installations: Naval Air Station Patuxent River (Pax River), located in St. Mary’s County. In fact, the proposed site was within the viewshed of the Advanced Dynamic Aircraft Measurement System (ADAMS) at Pax River.

The ADAMS radar system is a sophisticated outdoor laboratory used to obtain measurements used in radar cross section analysis of military jets as they are outfitted with armaments. The radar signatures of jets are measured and known during manufacture and acceptance testing by the DoD.

That signature changes, however, when jets are equipped with various weapons. Our military needs to know what potential enemy forces will see when our planes are approaching. The ADAMS system is used by all branches of the US military and our foreign allies. Truly a national, and international, asset.

The Navy was very accommodating and explored changes to flight paths and profiles so that ADAMS would not be in line with the proposed wind turbines. Nonetheless, the analysis showed that energy reflected from the turbines would still interfere with ADAMS. Making various modifications to ADAMS were investigated, but to no avail.

The Navy, in consultation with the Department of Defense (DoD) Test Resource Management Center (TRMC), determined that an independent analysis should be conducted. Thus the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT/LL) was contracted to develop and perform experiments with modified radar waveforms and digital signal processing to hopefully mitigate the interference. 

During the more than two years of effort PGE tried to obtain approval for the project there was interest and involvement at all levels of government, local, state, and federal and the general public. Locally PGE arranged to lease property for the towers, citizens were lining up both for and against the project, and county officials were rewriting regulations and counting on an anticipated $45 million in increased revenue.

At the state level, bills were passed to delay the $200 million project for a year so the studies could be completed that might alleviate the interferences to the ADAMS radar system the wind turbines would cause. Even Governor O’Malley was faced with the difficult decision of choosing between the green energy initiative he promoted and the possibility of losing jobs at Pax River.

As time passed, and energy and tax-payer dollars were being expended, PGE also spent a great deal of its money making numerous design changes, including the number of wind turbines, the height of the turbine towers, and the arrangement of locations of the turbines, to try to save the project.

For PGE, the many unanticipated legislative hurdles put forward by supporters of Naval Air Station Patuxent River during the development of the $200-million Great Bay project amounted to unsurmountable roadblocks. But in the end, the DOD determined the project was simply  not an enterprise compatible with a highly valuable preexisting use (and in fact posed an unacceptable risk to national security), and the PAX Adams System was determined to be an essential national asset to be protected.[ii]

There is no formal tally for the amount of energy, man hours, and dollars spent on this effort, but is was sizeable, especially when we consider all involved: PGE; numerous federal agencies including, the U.S. Navy, Secretary of Defense, and the FAA; numerous officials of Somerset and St. Mary’s County; citizens, business owners, local farmers of both counties; Maryland U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. Congress (i.e., Maryland’s federal delegation); members of the Maryland legislature, Governor Hogan – and all of their many staff dedicated to the issue – not to mention the researchers working on the contract with MIT/LL.

The lesson here is clear: had there been an existing statewide compatible use strategy prior to the proposed project, with a thorough process of engagement among all the parties, the human and financial capital expended could have been preserved.

With the advent of the SJRIS, the goal is to identify potentially incompatible uses in advance, so that unnecessary conflicts between adjacent land uses and activities will be avoided in the future. The SJRIS accomplishes this by creating effective coordination and communication between military and civilian communities before new development begins.

For more information about the Renewable Energy Siting projects, please contact Commerce staff members Jennifer Chiasson, Grants Program Manager, at or Thomas Evans, Assistant Director, Military and Federal Affairs, at

[i] As stated on the company’s website, Pioneer Green Energy is a “utility-scale renewable energy development company active in the United States since 2009. [Its] goal is to serve domestic electric markets with the energy necessary to promote a financially and environmentally sustainable future.”


Note: Banner photo source: U.S. Navy photo by Liz Goettee

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Compatible Use Planning

  1. Pingback: Matrix Design Group To Complete Renewable Energy Siting Study | Maryland Planning Blog

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