Sweeping proposals advanced by the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region would accomplish far more than restore the bay to good health.
For the first time, residential and commercial building throughout Maryland would proceed in a cohesive, orderly fashion under state guidelines. New growth would be restricted to designated areas in each of the state's 23 counties, while swathes of environmentally sensitive acreage and farmland would be preserved.
This report calls for fundamental changes in the region's way of life. There would be fewer sprawling, bucolic homesites. Land would be used more efficiently, saving 400,000 acres from bulldozers: instead of dotting the countryside like measles, subdivisions would radiate outward from areas with water and sewer facilities. This would save $10.8 billion in roads alone over 30 years.
These recommendations strike at the heart of widespread voter discontent over gridlocked roads, abominable commutes, inadequate schools, soaring housing prices and rising property taxes.
State and local officials in the past have lacked the foresight to halt a pattern of scattered, low-density development that not only squanders land and natural resources, but requires expensive links to far-away water and sewer lines.
Consider: Over the last five years, the population in Frederick County has increased 63 percent; 90 percent of this growth has occurred outside the envelope of sewer service. In Baltimore County, 8,000 acres of new development has taken place in areas without sewerage compared with 3,000 acres served by sewers. If this pattern were to continue for 20 years, taxpayers would spend $1.2 billion on new roads, sewers and other improvements.
The commission offers a reasoned, intelligent approach to growth quandaries facing county leaders throughout the region. Even developers, usually the biggest opponents of growth control measures, say they favor the consistency and predictability such guidelines would offer.
Yet there is talk that this proposal threatens local authority over zoning issues. It does not. Some rural county officials, meanwhile, fear they may lose out on the kind of growth experienced by Montgomery and other "developed" counties. They are neglecting to look at what has become of these "developed" jurisdictions.
This proposal represents a rare opportunity for local jurisdictions to get a handle on the thorny issue of growth. By concentrating future development in designated areas, billions of infrastructure dollars could be saved, more of this state's land would be preserved and Maryland's quality of life would be vastly improved.