Growth in rural areas is seen as threat to bay, environment More farmland is being lost to development.

February 27, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

Wye Harbor. Governor Grason Manor. Wye River Farms. Bell Point Farms. The elegant-sounding names of the residential communities stretching along the Wye River in Queen Anne's County suggest pleasant living on fields that used to grow corn.

But environmentalists and state planners see a threat to Chesapeake Bay and a drain on the taxpayers' purse from developments on former farmland like that of the narrow Eastern Shore peninsula just south of Kent Narrows.

Nearly 74,000 acres of Maryland's farmland and more than 71,000 acres of forest have been lost to development in just the last five years, say officials of the Maryland Office of Planning.

And most of the development that has occurred was low-density housing scattered well beyond cities, towns and older suburban communities. Indeed, more than 80 percent of the 168,000 acres developed statewide in the last five years was in rural areas lacking water and sewer service, state planners say.

"That's the problem," says Michael D. Barnes, chairman of the governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region. "The growth is happening in places where the counties have not planned for it. They don't have the infrastructure there already or in their plans. It's a very expensive form of development, [and] environmentally crazy."

The Schaefer administration wants to stop the sprawl with growth-management legislation that would require counties to protect streams, steep slopes and other environmentally sensitive areas from bulldozers. The bill, as envisioned by the Barnes commission, would try to slow the loss of farms and forests by concentrating new development around existing towns and cities or in designated "growth areas."

State officials say that concentrating new development would help preserve the bay and save taxpayers $1.2 billion on building roads, water and sewer lines and other services over the next 20 years. Maryland's population is expected to grow by 1 million in the next 30 years, consuming another 695,000 acres of land in the process unless that growth is better managed.

Supporters of the growth-management bill say Maryland must stop the recent development trend of building homes on larger and larger lots. The average lot size in Maryland has doubled since 1982, from about one-half acre to one acre, as an increasing number of homes are built on two- to five-acre lots, and larger.

Concentrating development over the next 30 years can reduce the amount of sediment clogging streams by 17 percent.

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