Planners Call Growth Bill A 'Straitjacket' For Howard County Officials Upset With Plan By Governor's 2020 Commission

December 19, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

If county and municipal planners get there way, the statewide growth bill is in deep trouble.

Two major issues appeared to have irked the nearly 150 planners and county officials who met at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore on Monday to review the legislation drafted by the governor's so-called 2020 commission on growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region.

The first was that local jurisdictions were not consulted. Many, like Howard County, had recently enacted growth plans of their own and would have liked to have shared those plans with the commission.

The second was that the proposed growth legislation applies the same criteria to every jurisdiction in the state. Indeed, one county commissioner derided the plan as being very much like a mail-order bathrobe advertised as "one size fits all."

Essentially, the state growth plan is designed to accomplish two objectives: protect the bay and its resources and promote economic development.

The plan specifies four land classifications to help meet that goal by the year 2020. By then, an additional 1 million people are expected to inhabit the state.

The commission's 2020 plan is "not a proposal that limits growth," said former Howard County planning director Uri Avin. "It simply redistributes growth. The state assumes it will be cost-effective, saving $1.2 billion over 20 years."

But in Howard County, there would be a net loss of $155 million, or $8 million a year for the next 20 years, Avin said. He said the plan would restrict growth in the revenue-producing portion of the western end of the county and require new roads to handle the new densities in the eastern portion.

Avin explained the plan yesterday morning to a local group of business and civic leaders called the Economic Forum.

If the commission's plan were approved in this session of the legislature, each county or municipality would be required to develop an interim growth plan that would take effect immediately and follow it with permanent plan to be enacted by Dec. 31, 1993. Any municipality not complying would be denied state funds.

The county's general plan had assumed densities of 2.64 dwelling units per acre as compared to the 3.5 per acre envisioned by the governor's commission.

In testimony before the commission Saturday, Avin said that while the commission plan would reduce the number of rural homes from 16,000 to 4,000, it preserves only 18 percent more rural land. Avin questioned whether the "limited savings is worth the significant fiscal losses and inequities that it causes."

In the eastern, urban portion of the county, the number of households would increase "by almost 6,000 on a land-use base that must be reduced by between 4,500 acres and 11,000 acres of residential land," Avin said.

"When you remember that our total pool of undeveloped residentially zoned land in our urban area is only 12,500 acres . . . the loss of 11,000 would be catastrophic," Avin said.

Like other planners around the state, Avin complained that the 2020 commission "presumes that its numerical formula and standards are as applicable" to one county as another.

The commission's proposed bill "straitjackets" the state's counties and municipalities with "very little room for wiggle," Avin said.

The first land classification under the 2020 proposal, developed areas, is made up of towns and cities of at least 500 contiguous acres that are 75 percent built out and have water and sewer service.

Growth areas, the second classification, consists of parcels adjacent to developed areas that either have water and sewer now or have it planned within the next 20 years. All future development would take place in these two designated areas.

The third classification, called rural and resource areas, contains land not otherwise classified. It would be comprised mostly of farms, mining areas and forest lands.

The last classification, sensitive areas, consists of 100-year flood plains, steep slopes, streams and buffers, and critical habitats for endangered species.

Development would be directed into the developed and growth zones at a density of 3.5 dwelling units per acre, and would provide enough land for 1.4 jobs per household. Those areas also would be required to have at least 15 percent of the population be people of moderate income.

Development in rural resources areas would be limited to one unit for every 20 acres. There would be no development in sensitive areas except for transportation and recreation.

The plan could be amended every five years, but amendments would be limited to boundary changes only and would be based on the most current data.

The state's role would be to monitor state agencies, resolve disputes and advise local governments. Local jurisdictions would have the right of appeal to a state board.

Commission members say benefits of the plan are "bottom-up" planning, land-use savings of more than 400,000 acres and reduced infrastructure costs.

In Howard County at least, fewer acres will be preserved at a higher cost, Avin said. Also, the commission did not ask for any "bottom-up planning" despite the county's having won a prestigious national award for its general plan.

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