Growth plan for bay region spurs dissent

November 28, 1990|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

The ink is barely dry on the draft of a sweeping plan to protect Chesapeake Bay from suburban sprawl, and already some members of a gubernatorial commission are jockeying to change it.

Environmentalists hailed the state growth-management legislation proposed yesterday to the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region. But, some on the 33-member panel indicated last night they still are not satisfied with the measure, despite the compromises worked out between development and conservation interests. They did not say how they would change it.

Michael D. Barnes, former congressman and chairman of the commission, said he has ideas for amending the 24-page bill, which seeks to save the state's dwindling forests and farmland by focusing development around cities and towns or in designated "growth areas."

Barnes was quickly seconded by state Agriculture Secretary Wayne W. Cawley, by an Eastern Shore legislator and by at least one developer on the panel. Some warned that the plan could founder unless county officials get as much as $62 million a year in additional state funds to build roads and water and sewer lines in areas targeted for growth.

"Funding is critical," said Jacqueline H. Rogers, state secretary of housing and community development.

Barnes acknowledged that "we have our work cut out for us." But he said that "genuinely frightening" development trends in Maryland make the need for growth management overwhelming.

"In my judgment what we are proposing is a minimal program," said Barnes. "I wish we could do much more in 1990. We have today in the bay 1 percent of the oysters that our grandfathers enjoyed. Who would have thought we couldn't fish for rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay?

"Our children and our grandchildren are not going to have crabs if we don't change the way we are living."

In the last five years, nearly 145,000 acres -- an area more than twice the size of Baltimore -- has been developed, said Ronald M. Kreitner, state planning director. And recent census figures indicate that Maryland's population is growing at an even faster rate than planners had predicted only a year ago, Kreitner said.

Planners warn that unless current development trends change, 626,000 acres will be gobbled up in the next 30 years to accommodate 1 million new people in the state, nearly 20 percent more than previously projected.

If enacted, the growth management legislation unveiled yesterday could reduce the amount of land developed by as much as 400,000 acres, Kreitner said. It also could save taxpayers $1.2 billion over 20 years by trimming needs for new roads and water and sewer lines.

The bill does not seek to curtail or stop growth, said Walter A. "Skip" Frey 3rd, chairman of the nine-member committee that drafted it. Instead, it seeks to reduce storm water runoff and auto air pollution by concentrating development where it already exists and where roads and sewer lines can serve it.

"The time has come not to stop growth . . . but to grow in a logical, efficient fashion," Frey said.

The measure would require the state's municipalities and 23 counties to map out all of their land into four land-use categories: developed, growth, rural or sensitive areas.

Cities and towns would be classified as developed areas, as would adjacent suburbs already 75 percent built up. Growth would be encouraged on remaining vacant land, and shrinking cities like Baltimore would be expected to plan for redevelopment, rather than growth.

Growth areas could be identified anywhere by local officials, but their size would be determined by population projections. Residential development would have to be at least 3.5 homes an acre, and that would have to be balanced with commercial and industrial development nearby to provide 1.4 jobs per household.

In rural and "resource" areas, development would be restricted to no more than one home per 20 acres.

The bill also provides nearly absolute protection against development for four types of "sensitive" areas: 100-year flood plains, steep slopes, streams with 100-foot buffers and habitat for endangered plants and animals.

Local officials would have until Dec. 31, 1993, to put together local growth management programs, and until then interim controls would be in effect. The state Office of Planning would review and approve local growth plans, and the agency would be empowered to deny road or sewer funds to any county not complying.

But the bill provides an elaborate mechanism for local officials to negotiate with the state, and even to appeal to a seven-member board appointed by the governor.

Frey said the bill-drafting committee had sought to retain local autonomy over planning and zoning as much as possible, and the measure aims for a balance between public and private property rights.

Environmentalists, who had wanted to see even stricter development limits and a stronger state planning role, nevertheless said they supported the bill.

"I think we should have passed it 10 years ago," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Richard M. Alter, a developer, said his industry probably could accept restrictions on building in certain sensitive and rural areas in return for consistency and predictability in development guidelines elsewhere.

But Charles "Chip" MacLeod, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, called the proposal "a quantum leap" from current local planning and zoning practices. And he said he was concerned about how little time local officials have to react to it, especially since there was a 59 percent turnover of county elected officials in this month's election.

The commission plans a public hearing Dec. 15 on the draft bill, then intends to revise it and forward it to the governor by January, in time for the General Assembly to act on it.

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