Stricter environmental regulations and a scarce supply of construction loans threaten to drive Anne Arundel housing prices ever higher.
But that doesn't have to be the case, a panel sponsored by the county chapter of the Maryland Home Builders Association agreed Tuesday night.
Six panel members -- including an environmentalist, legislators and builders -- gathered at Busch's Chesapeake Inn in Lower Broadneck to debate the future of affordable housing in Anne Arundel.
Although they clashed over the need for further environmental protections, they agreed that conservationists, regulators, developers and bankers will have to cooperate to hold housing costs down.
"Where will our children live? The quick answer to that is Pennsylvania," said Earl Armiger, president of the Maryland Home Builders Association and a Howard County developer. "We're pricing our children out of the market through over-regulation."
Compounding the problem, banks have begun tightening credit to builders and home buyers to reduce their risks in the wake of the savings and loan crisis and in anticipation of a recession, said John Marhefka Jr., president of the Bank of Annapolis.
But Lina Vlavianos, a Millersville resident well known to developers as a champion of stricter erosion controls, said, "It's possible to have environmentally sound development provided the local government ensures the proper use of land.
"You already say we have tough land ordinances. It will have to get tougher."
To end centuries of "land abuse," state Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Annapolis, said, "We all have to change the way we think if we ar going to turn around this deterioration of our natural heritage. People will have to change from a strictly consumer ethic to a conservation ethic."
Winegrad added, "The key question isn't where will our children live, but how will our children live?"
Maryland needs a new "re-urbanization policy" that directs growth into existing cities and away from the state's forests and farmland, said Winegrad, chairman of the Senate environmental matters subcommittee. He said he hopes the governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region, expected to make its final report next month, yields such a policy.
"Otherwise, you're going to bankrupt the state trying to build infrastructure for our sprawling growth," he said.
To hold down costs, regulators and lawmakers at the county, state and federal levels will have to cooperate with home builders, allowing greater flexibility in the manner developers comply with environmental goals, Winegrad said.