Halting Suburban Sqrawl

February 27, 1991

Foes of the land-use plan recommended by the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region are having a field day spreading misinformation in an attempt to kill the proposal. Land developers, local planners and local officials want to side-track the measure. As far as they are concerned, there's no need to fix what isn't broken.

They are wrong on two counts. No. 1, opponents seriously misrepresent the intent of this legislation. No. 2, opponents ignore the serious environmental harm being done, especially to the Chesapeake Bay, by the population sprawl that has gripped this state. That sprawl, if allowed to continue, will quickly devour much of the remaining undeveloped land in this state, degrade the quality of the bay still further and send local government costs (and thus property taxes) skyrocketing.

The commission's bill is not, as foes maintain, a power grab that would give Annapolis control over local decision-making. Nor is it an attempt to force people to live in congested, urban centers. And it certainly is not some devilish conspiracy to diminish the value of citizens' land holdings.

Instead, the panel wants to force the counties to rationalize their planning practices so that future growth is channeled into specified areas within each subdivision. That will enable governments to reduce sewerage expenses, school-construction and education expenses and road-building costs. It will also reduce auto mileage and pollution.

This proposal calls for protecting farmland, open spaces and sensitive areas in each county. The jurisdictions would draw up blueprints outlining how they intend to handle population growth over the next three years and submit them to the state. Once these plans are approved, counties would have to abide by them. The state would have no further role in local zoning or planning decisions.

Marylanders are gobbling up open space at an alarming rate. In the next 20 years, more people will move to Maryland than now live in Montana. If trends persist, this will lead to the loss of 700,000 acres of farmland. We can't afford that kind of mindless, destructive sprawl.

Yet Maryland already has, or soon will have, more than 350,000 acres of undeveloped land with sewer service. If new growth could be focused in this area, the savings to local governments and the environment would be enormous.

The commission's proposal is far from perfect. Yet if nothing is done to halt suburban sprawl, county governments and county taxpayers will be big losers. So will the Chesapeake Bay. Legislators in Annapolis cannot let that happen.

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