'2020' Is Reasonable


March 17, 1991|By Jeff Griffith

2020 — that's the name of a TV show. Right.

2020 -- that's good eyesight. Right.

2020 -- that's a vision for the future. Huh?

Yes. Maryland 2020, the Governor's Commission on Growth in the Chesapeake Bay Region presents a vision for the future, one remarkably similar to the one adopted and refined by Carroll County planners the past 20 years.

The 2020 commission's report, "Protecting the Future -- A Vision for Maryland," offers five recommendations, the first of which mirrors the growth-management plan already in place in Carroll, and the rest of which are consistent with that plan.

Why, then, is the 2020 legislation under attack?

Recommendation No. 1: Designate suitable areas for growth. The commission suggests channeling development into areas"already developed" or "designated for growth."

Already developedareas could absorb additional growth where "build-out" hasn't occurred and through in-fill and redevelopment. Designated growth areas would lie adjacent to developed communities or would be directed to locations where growth could occur with minimal adverse impact on the local and regional environments.

Recommendation No. 1 is almost exactly what has been going on in Carroll since the '60s, when the county's first zoning ordinance was adopted. Growth has been directed to the communities in and around the county's eight incorporated municipalities -- Carroll's "already developed areas" -- and to a ninth planning area, Finksburg, chosen for its location along a major transportation corridor.

The vision of Carroll's planners was to concentrate growth where existing use patterns could support development and to limit severely any development of the surrounding countryside. Today, roughly 75 percent of the county's 450-square-mile area lies in agricultural or conservation zones.

Development density in the ag zone is limited to one residence per 20 acres, the same density recommended by the 2020 commission for the rest of Maryland. The density allowed in the conservation zone is one unit per 3 acres.

The rationale of the 2020 approach is consistent with Carroll's -- to preserve the natural resources of our state.

Why has this element of the 2020 plan been greeted with such stiff opposition? The reasons vary but tend to relate to fear that both individual property owners and local governments will give up control over land-use decisions.

No citizenwants diminished power to decide how to use private lands. No local government wants the state to dominate local decision-making.

The first of these attitudes springs from ancient, deeply held attitudes about private property rights. The flaw in those views is that they often fail to consider the intricate, often unavoidable interconnections among the various systems that link parcels of land throughout theregion.

These systems are both artificial and natural -- both sewer systems and ecosystems. A land use affecting one often affects both. That is, private property rights are not absolute: Seldom does a property owner have the unlimited authority to use land in any manner.

The second attitude is rooted in plain old turf guarding. Rarely does any government unit give away its prerogatives -- even if the greater good of the whole body politic demands. What we have here, friends, is the same old song and dance. Change anything as long as the change doesn't affect me.

The remaining recommendations also make sense. Protect sensitive areas. Conserve natural resources. Make stewardship of the environment a universal ethic. Provide money to achievethe proposals. Preserve motherhood and apple pie.

Will the legislature adopt a sensible growth-management plan, one which incorporatesthe best of what Carroll County is already doing? Opponents mouth the usual platitudes:

"The philosophy behind what the commission didwas good. It's just a bad bill." Translation: No way.

"We supportthe bill's broad goals, but the legislature should study the implications for at least a year."

Translation: This bill's more dead than the Dead Sea.

Someone brave among our elected leaders must come forth and join our governor and the members of the 2020 commission inleading the effort to balance growth with protecting the natural environment. Will such a stalwart arise? We live in hope. And that's theway it is.

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