Growth spurt

December 12, 1990

The ink is barely dry on the draft report from the governor's commission on growth, and already what should have been a debate over growth management has turned into a turf war, with Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann and Howard County Executive Chuck Ecker charging the state with trying to take away local control of land-use planning. Maybe so, but we ask, what's wrong with that?

Development is no more an isolated county problem than air or water pollution or transportation -- none of which stops at geographical boundaries. Moreover, the governor's commission on growth found that what the counties have done in isolation has been illogical and inefficient: Over the past five years 144,000 acres -- an area twice the size of Baltimore city -- has been developed in Maryland. Much of it has been haphazard, with growth occurring in random clusters, most of which don't have water and sewer service service or sufficient roads. This is not just a simple planning dilemma; it is an environmental menace with statewide implications. Open space is at a premium, storm water runoff from construction and auto air pollution from inefficiently planned development affect all our lives.

To stop the sprawl, the commission would funnel new development into designated growth areas where water, sewer and essential services either exist or can be efficiently provided, and protect "sensitive areas" like habitat for endangered plants and animals. To help counties pay for roads and water and sewer lines in targeted growth areas, the commission wants the state to provide a whopping $62 million a year. If there is a problem with the commission's plan, it is the funding, not the philosophy. With Maryland's population expected to grow by 1 million by 2020, a continuation of the current development trend means 626,000 more acres will be gobbled up. A coordinated statewide plan to manage growth is the only rational response.

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