The Maryland Association of Counties says it would support a Schaefer administration bill to protect Chesapeake Bay if the measure were amended to ban restrictions on development only in environmentally sensitive areas.
In presenting the alternative, William V. Riggs, president of MACO, said yesterday the group would support the growth management bill "but only with amendments."
"This is a major piece of legislation" that is in need of a "simpler and more workable framework," Riggs added.
MACO had earlier opposed the measure, saying it would usurp local planning authority.
The governor's so-called 2020 bill would regulate land use statewide in order to manage increased population growth in Maryland during the next 30 years.
The bill would direct growth to already developed areas. Building on or near environmentally sensitive areas such as rivers and streams, steep slopes and wildlife habitats would be discouraged.
The governor's proposal would give local jurisdictions a year to hash out specific density requirements with state regulators, but MACO officials proposed that a committee of state and local officials be established to develop "guidelines" that would be presented to legislators two years from now.
Yesterday in Annapolis, Riggs and hundreds of people packed a legislative meeting room and lined the hallways to testify on the bill before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Opponents of the bill clearly dominated the testimony.
State Sen. Clarence W. Blount, committee chairman, sidestepped any attempt to be pinned down over how he would vote on the proposed Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act.
"This is a volatile situation, and I don't want to do anything to fuel the flames," said Blount, D-City, during a break after six hours of testimony. "People feel as strongly about this as they did about abortion."
Ronald M. Kreitner, director of the Maryland Office of Planning, stopped short of criticizing the MACO proposal.
"My concern is that it may set up a process by which we're in the same position a year from now that we are in today," he said.
Kreitner and other proponents of the bill called out heavy artillery in the form of James Rouse, founding father of Columbia, the state's only planned city in Howard County.
"We simply must protect the waters of the Chesapeake and its tributaries for their food supply, for our recreational enjoyment and for the maintenance of the seafood industry," Rouse said. "We must protect against uncontrolled growth."
But Shane Pendergrass, a Howard County councilwoman and Columbia resident, said that under earlier requirements
proposed by the governor's growth commission, Columbia's next village would have to be scrapped.
That's because the new village would not be able to meet acreage requirements under the proposed bill.
Opponents also said they were concerned that citizens would be forced to live in highly urbanized areas under the bill. Some farmers said they feared their land values would be lowered, making it difficult to secure loans with land as collateral.
Betsy Krempasky, Caroline County director of planning, illustrated for the committee how the bill would affect that rural county, home to about 27,000 people.
Krempasky said the proposal would require Caroline to designate approximately 97 percent of its land for high-density use only, limiting residential development to perhaps as little as one unit per 20 acres.
Caroline's modest plan of encouraging the development of approximately 1,700 new housing units over the next 10 years would have to be abandoned because it would not conform with the bill's requirement that growth be centered on already developed areas where a sewage system is present.
"We're not anti-growth," said Krempasky of officials in Caroline. "We have a very low tax base and we need some moderate growth to maintain our fiscal health."