Don't Lose the Momentum

January 07, 1991

Give Gov. William Donald Schaefer credit for urging his Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region to finish its job soon. His administration does not want to lose momentum on one of its most important pieces of legislation for the upcoming General Assembly session: a plan to set uniform growth guidelines throughout Maryland.

The state has paid a heavy price for local scatter-shot planning and poor land use. Counties have liberally issued permits to homebuilders to boost their own local economies. This has led to too many gridlocked suburban highways, overcrowded schools and pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. The price tag to taxpayers for building the infrastructure to support this haphazard sprawl runs into the billions of dollars.

Yet the same powers who created this costly mess -- local elected officials and planning and zoning bureaucrats -- are already mounting a strong campaign to sabotage the growth commission's recommendations. They don't want to relinquish any of their controls, regardless of how badly they have bungled the job.

These officials are either unwilling or unable to stop the population sprawl, even as they oppose greater state influence. They ought to reconsider their opposition. The gubernatorial commission's proposal would not strip localities of their zoning and planning powers except to set guidelines that would force local officials to increase population density within growth areas and protect environmentally sensitive regions.

Charles L. Benton, the governor's secretary of budget and fiscal planning, pledges that the Schaefer administration will pick up much of the $1.2 billion needed to build the infrastructure for such concentrated growth within each county. The state is willing to make this massive commitment because the proposed growth controls would save taxpayers an equivalent amount in fewer roads and fewer water and sewer lines.

Commission chairman Michael D. Barnes has a big job in front of him to win over county officials and members of the General Assembly. First, though, the Barnes panel must finalize its report so it can be submitted to the legislature, which convenes on Wednesday. Guiding Maryland's growth over the next 30 years is crucial if we want to lower the cost to taxpayers and protect the Chesapeake region's environment.

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