Growth commission adopts two-part 'solution'


January 08, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland's growth commission, sobered by the suggestion that it was ramming a growth-management bill down the throats of local officials, has adopted a compromise that will leave the hard decision up to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

In a nearly unanimous vote last night, the Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region decided to recommend that Schaefer consider two options to limit growth in the state.

One would have Schaefer attempt to win General Assembly approval this year for legislation designed to impose specific restrictions on growth statewide as a means of protecting Chesapeake Bay from further pollution.

Under such a bill, Baltimore and the state's 23 counties would have to place all land into one of four land-use categories with specific growth restrictions for each. The jurisdictions would then submit those plans to state planning officials for approval.

That option has been met with criticism from some local officials and the Maryland Association of Counties, who say the bill usurps local authority.

The other option the commission is recommending would phase in growth management, allowing local officials the bulk of 1991 to analyze the impact of the bill and recommend changes.

Under a phased approach, jurisdictions still would have to make local plans reflect the state's four land-use categories. However, the specific densities allowed in each land-use area would remain open to negotiation over the coming months.

Despite the compromise, commission Chairman Michael C. Barnes said he did not expect the proposals endorsed by the commission to be watered down if a phased approach is accepted.

"We're still presenting a bill to the governor," Barnes said after last night's four-hour meeting. "The phased approach would still achieve the goals of the bill."

That, however, was not clear to all members of the commission yesterday, some of whom expressed reservations about supporting a report that would recommend two options to the governor.

William C. Baker, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the commission already had compromised in the 15 months of deliberations that culminated in a draft bill being unveiled last month.

Baker said he was concerned that "at this 11th hour, we've already become a little cautious, perhaps a little frightened."

There was no indication of how the governor will react to the

commission's compromise recommendation.

Addressing the commission last week, Schaefer said, "Don't be afraid. Be bold." But he stopped short of saying specifically what he expected the panel to do.

A dose of reality may have been delivered to the commission yesterday by several members of the General Assembly who also are commission members.

Most echoed the sentiments of Sen. Bernie Fowler, a Democrat from rural Southern Maryland, who said that "unless we can get public discussion going," the growth-management bill "would have a real difficult time with the General Assembly."

Fowler said that if the bill as currently written comes before the legislature he will fight hard to amend it because of opposition from his constituents. "My people just don't understand this thing," he said.

Should a phased approach be adopted, all local jurisdictions also would have to identify so-called critical areas, such as 100-year-old floodplains, which are considered environmentally sensitive and must be protected from all development.

In 1984, the legislature approved a critical-areas bill that barred development on all land within 1,000 feet of Chesapeake Bay. The current growth-management proposal would go much further and would protect all wetlands statewide.

Also, under the phased approach, the Maryland Office of Planning would be charged with developing the final regulations that would govern such things as limits on density within specific areas.

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