Maryland's counties and municipalities would be required to protect Chesapeake Bay from suburban sprawl by sharply limiting development of the state's farmland and forests, under legislation being drafted by a gubernatorial commission.
The bill being drawn up by members of the Governor's Commission on Growth in Chesapeake Bay would direct the state's 23 counties to concentrate future housing in developed cities, towns and suburbs, or in designated "growth areas" some panel members liken to rural villages.
The 18-member commission, which has been meeting behind closed doors since June, also has been debating whether to recommend spending as much as $100 million in new state funds to build roads, schools, sewer lines and other public facilities in areas to be targeted for intense development, panel members say.
The proposed state growth-management program still is being drafted, and no decisions have been made on what recommendations will be made to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, says commission chairman Michael D. Barnes.
Barnes, a Washington lawyer and former congressman, will not discuss what the commission is considering, saying the recommendations are being frequently revised. He says he hopes to be able to make public the panel's proposals this month before formally submitting them to Schaefer in December.
Commission members -- who include developers, environmentalists, farmers and government officials -- say they have been told not to divulge the panel's deliberations.
But some panel members, speaking on condition they not be identified, say the proposed growth management bill -- now in its eighth draft -- requires the counties to put all of their land into one of at least three land-use categories.
Although the measure also applies to municipalities, it was unclear how Baltimore, already fully developed, would be affected by the growth measure.
The draft bill in some respects resembles a statewide version of Maryland's 6-year-old Critical Area law, which seeks to protect the bay from polluted rainfall runoff and other harm by regulating development in a 1,000-foot strip around the bay and its tidal tributaries.
Development in rural areas and in environmentally important "resource areas" would be limited to no more than one home per 20 acres under the draft bill, sources say. That parallels the limit on building on pristine bay waterfront under the Critical Area law.
But there are major differences between the two measures, commission members say. The growth-management bill seeks to encourage new housing and other construction in already developed areas and in designated "growth areas" outside of existing cities, towns and suburbs.
Such growth areas would be targeted for intense development, commission members say. The draft bill suggests a minimum housing density of 3.5 homes an acre, not including land used to build roads and other public facilities, they say.
One commission member says the recommended housing density is similar to that in Columbia, the planned Howard County community that clusters apartments, townhouses and single-family homes around shopping areas.
The commission members also are debating how to protect especially sensitive areas, such as flood plains and places where rare animals or plants live. Some panelists have urged barring development in all such areas, but others have argued for deciding tract by tract.
The draft bill would establish state guidelines for what lands should be protected and where new development should be encouraged, sources say, but local officials would have more leeway than they do under the Critical Area law to tailor growth-management plans to their counties' individual circumstances.
The size of a county's growth areas, for instance, would be determined in part by population projections and by the capacity of already developed areas to absorb more housing, panelists say.
Counties would have to submit interim and permanent growth-management plans to the state Office of Planning for review and approval under the draft bill, commission members say.
If localities don't comply, the state may withhold funds for development activities and may deny needed state permits, according to sources.
"The aim of the legislation is not to stop growth and, in fact, it does not stop growth," says one commission member. Instead, panel members want to offer local officials incentives to use zoning to channel growth to areas that can best accommodate it, where sewer lines already have been laid or are planned.
Local officials and real estate representatives on the commission have insisted that, to make the growth controls work, more state funding must be provided to build and upgrade roads, sewers and other public facilities. Some have suggested an "infrastructure" fund as large as $100 million, with part or all of it possibly financed through a bond issue, panelists say.