State lawmakers have dealt a near-fatal blow to the Schaefer administration's controversial growth-management plan by sending it to summer study.
Both the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday rejected the so-called 2020 Chesapeake Bay protection bill after legislative leaders pledged to have a joint panel study the concept this summer.
The votes virtually wiped out any chance that the ambitious land-use plan could be enacted this year. The measure would have controlled growth throughout the state by directing it into high-density areas.
In a letter signed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore, committee members were assured that if they voted to kill the bill a "comprehensive" study of state growth management issues would be undertaken. The study would be NTC aimed at resurrecting some form of the land-use plan for consideration by the General Assembly in the future.
Environmentalists, who had lobbied for the measure but were aware it was doomed for this year, said they wished Miller and Mitchell had offered more guidelines for the summer study.
Environmental groups wanted the study group to accept as a starting point the findings compiled by the Barnes Commission, the panel headed by former Rep. Michael Barnes that drafted the growth-management plan. The commission spent more than year studying the impact of population and building growth on the state projected by the year 2020.
Schaefer administration officials said the bill, which would have focused development around cities and towns or in designated "growth areas," was necessary to manage a projected increase of 1 million people in the state population and 640,000 new households over the next 30 years. Without proper development controls, an additional 700,000 undeveloped acres could be consumed to make way for the population increase, they said.
Miller and Mitchell, however, did not specify that the legislative study should use the Barnes report as a starting point. Instead, they said, the legislative study panel will use a number of "visions" or broad conclusions outlined by the Barnes report.
"This is no victory at all," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "It's a step back 18 months."
Although bay foundation officials said they were unhappy with yesterday's vote, Baker said the foundation will participate in the study.
"We're not going to stand on the outside and throw rocks," he said. You don't get anything that way. But we are disappointed."
By killing the bill, the legislature helped itself balance the deficit-plagued state budget. The measure called on the state to spend $3.8 million to help local governments implement the growth controls, aimed at curbing sprawl to preserve the state's dwindling farms, forests and environmentally sensitive areas.
Sprawl -- the building of homes on half-acre to five-acre lots -- lets more pollution runoff into the bay and produces more smog than does more concentrated development, state officials said. They said managed growth as proposed by the bill could save taxpayers up to $1.2 billion for roads, schools and utilities over the next 20 years.
The plan drew praise from many environmentalists, but critics, including local government officials, farmers and developers, argued that it was too complex to understand in a single legislative session.