Protective County Officials

December 14, 1990

As expected, the recent proposals advanced by the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region drew quick criticism from overly protective county officials. Complaining of unwarranted state intervention, they oppose state guidelines in shaping new growth and preserving farmland and green spaces.

Ironically, the loudest grumbling comes from jurisdictions that best make the case for such uniformity. Newly installed Howard County Executive Charles Ecker, for instance, says the plan would usurp "local control" of land use planning. Yet in Howard, plagued by bulging classrooms and gridlocked roads, local officials have failed in that task.

Mr. Ecker, in fact, was swept into office largely because voters grew weary of his predecessor's perceived indecisiveness on growth controls. Even now, the state's fastest-growing county is without adequate public facilities legislation because the previous band of council members couldn't come up with a bill satisfying opposing factions.

Many counties have moved beyond this kind of political gridlock. Nonetheless, most have allowed scattered, low-density development that squanders natural resources and ultimately raises infrastructure costs by requiring expensive links to water and sewer facilities.

These and other factors make a compelling argument for statewide controls. Yet Mr. Ecker, Harford Executive Eileen Rehrmann and others complain that these steps would impair their flexibility, negating hard-won compromises. Howard's development plan, for example, calls for clustering houses one per 5 acres in the environmentally sensitive western end; the state would change that zoning to one home per 20 acres.

Ms. Rehrmann grouses that the proposal requiring commercially zoned land to provide for 1.4 jobs per household might interfere with her goal of bringing in more industrial firms. Such parochial concerns are understandable but hardly cause for derailing the greater good promised by a statewide growth mandate.

Spotty, ill-thought-out development and growth wars amply demonstrate that too often the price of "local control" is chaos and indecision. The state not only has the right but the responsibility to provide a sensible, workable framework for growth that preserves Maryland's natural resources and its quality of life.

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