Panel seeks growth limits throughout state

November 28, 1990|By Phillip Davis | Phillip Davis,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Development in every corner of the state would be affected under long-awaited legislation proposed yesterday to the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region.

The Chesapeake Bay and other sensitive areas would come under special stewardship under the draft proposals prepared by a committee of the commission, which was formed to guide the state until the year 2020.

The draft proposals would target growth to specific areas and limit sprawl into environmentally sensitive land.

"What we are proposing is a minimal plan," said Commission Chairman Michael D. Barnes. "I wish we could go much further in 1990. Today we have 1 percent of the oysters that our grandparents enjoyed. Who could have believed that we would not be able to fish for rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay? Our children and grandchildren will not have crabs, if we don't change the way we are living."

In the past five years, 144,000 acres -- an area twice the size of Baltimore -- have been developed, according to the commission's figures. The rapid growth is projected to continue, with some 1 million people moving into Maryland in the next 30 years.

Storm water runoff and pollution from the additional growth are threatening the Chesapeake Bay, the state's lifeline.

If the state is to remain the land of pleasant living, then growth patterns must be changed, Mr. Barnes said.

The centerpiece of the proposals the commission received last night is the Proposed Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Protection Act. The draft bill aims to protect Maryland's dwindling supply of open space and the bay, Mr. Barnes said.

The plan would alter the sprawling way Maryland has developed in recent years -- consuming about an acre of land for every new household, state officials said.

The final proposal is to be submitted in mid-January to the governor, who is expected to introduce it to the legislature.

If the legislation wins approval from the commission and the General Assembly, it will put each acre of land into one of four categories, each of which has its own development pattern. It is up to the individual counties to categorize their land, in a state-mandated Growth and Resource Management Program that would have to be completed by Dec. 31, 1993.

The goal of the legislation is to steer the majority of growth into already developed locales and in designated growth areas.

In the growth areas, average residential density would be relatively high -- the goal is "at least" 3.5 dwelling units per acre, with commercially zoned land set aside to provide for 1.4 jobs per household. Counties would be encouraged to cluster development to preserve large swathes of open space.

In rural areas, development would be limited to one home per 20 acres, again with an allowance for clustering.

Growth would be frozen in so-called sensitive areas -- land in 100-year flood plains, along stream banks and steep slopes, and habitats of endangered species. New buildings, roads or power lines could be constructed "only if no practicable or feasible alternative exists for locating the structure outside of the Sensitive Area," reads the draft bill.

The strength of the proposal lies in the Growth and Resource Management Plans each county is to submit to the state planning office.

The state would have veto power over the plans and could return them to the counties for revisions, said Ronald M. Kreitner, director of the state office of planning.

If negotiation fails, the county could submit its plan to a Growth Management Appeals board, appointed by the governor.

If the board finds a county in violation of the state guidelines, then the county could be sued by the state attorney general and could lose state funding for roads, schools and sewers.

"If a county has a $200,000 capital program, and it finds the state is taking $20,000 out of that, you can be sure it will get their attention," said Ann P. Swanson, a member of the drafting committee.

However, the panel's members rejected suggestions that they were interested in statewide planning and zoning.

"The state is not in a position to micro-manage growth," said Walter A. Frey III, a commission member. He added that while 65 percent of growth was supposed to occur in targeted areas, that left 35 percent of total development to occur elsewhere.

Mr. Frey said, "Everyone's going to have to modify, to some extent, their choices and their style of living. There are going to be various people who will perceive this as a threat to various interests."

He added, however, that the plan would give all developers a level playing field in devising long-range plans.

He and other panel members acknowledged they would have difficulty selling the bill to state legislators, local officials and developers throughout the state. Mr. Frey said legislative members on the commission predicted that the proposals would worry legislators, who wouldn't want to see local powers diminished.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday he supported the plan.

"Now is the time, and not two, three, four or five years from now, to do something as far as growth is concerned," he said. "It is trying to help [counties] organize some of their growth."

Mr. Barnes hoped to counter criticism by noting that counties would save $1.2 billion over the next 20 years in terms of fewer roads, schools and sewer pipes built to service growth.

Environmentalists, who also were briefed on the plan, greeted it with enthusiasm.

"It's some of the best legislation that has come along in many a year," said Pete Givens, a Frederick resident and a member of the Sierra Club.

"I'm very pleased," said Dru Pierce Schmidt, director of Maryland Clean Water Action. "This is not divisive. . . . It's something that everyone can work together for."

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