State's newest tack on growth Scaled-down blueprint faces tough going.

November 13, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

Looking for a way to revive state growth management legislation after its rude treatment in the last General Assembly, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has come back with a new plan that would keep the state on the sidelines in trying to curb suburban sprawl.

But even the scaled-down growth blueprint that state planning officials unveiled last night in Annapolis faces tough going, with environmentalists saying it does not go far enough while business leaders and developers say depressed local economies need jobs, not new rules.

Planning officials outlined to a joint legislative committee a nine-point "growth and resource policy program" that abandons last year's effort to set sweeping state development standards in favor of a gradual approach that leaves land-use decisions up to local officials.

"What we're proposing creates no new layers of bureaucracy, no new regulatory agencies and no new funding mandates," Ronald N. Young, deputy state planning director, told the panel, named to study growth management last summer after Schaefer's bill was shelved.

Instead, the new plan focuses on getting state agencies to practice growth management while leaving it up to counties and municipalities to decide how to protect environmentally sensitive areas such as streams, flood plains, steep slopes and endangered species habitat.

The administration wants a state law requiring that all local comprehensive plans be revised to provide for protecting sensitive areas. By 1997, all local zoning and development regulations must be made consistent with the new plan.

But unlike the previous plan, this one does not attempt to specify minimum standards for shielding streams and other sensitive areas from development. Such decisions are left to local officials.

Besides protecting sensitive areas, the governor intends to seek legislation enabling counties and municipalities to adopt "cluster" zoning and other land-use measures to encourage more affordable housing and growth management.

Schaefer also proposes drawing up a "growth and resource policy plan" in the next year, with help from local officials and interest groups. The plan would be applied to state actions through a Cabinet-level interagency committee.

Young said the administration had reached a tentative accord on a "sensitive-area" bill with the Maryland Association of Counties, which accused Schaefer last year of trying to usurp local land-use powers.

But other elements of the plan have not been endorsed by anyone, and they got mixed reviews.

Environmentalists were lukewarm.

Jane Nishida, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the governor's program was better than an even less specific proposal made by county officials, but she would "like to see it go further."

State Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel, called the state plan "a sham." He said the legislation lacked standards for grading localities' performance and had no provisions for enforcing compliance.

Business and development groups -- which participated in Schaefer's commission that drew up the growth bill last year -- said new protections for sensitive areas are unneeded and potentially harmful to economies reeling from recession.

"In this economic climate, businesses are very fearful that new restrictions will have such an incredible impact that it will just knock them out of business," said Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Maryland State Chamber of Commerce.

State officials say their agreement with counties on sensitive-area protections signals the beginning of progress toward growth management after last year's bitter debate.

"It's a step in the right direction," agreed Sen. Clarence Blount, D-City, committee co-chairman. "It's not going to go as far as some in the environmental arena would like . . . but at least it's on the table and people are not snarling at each other."

Del. Ronald Guns, D-Cecil, the other co-chairman, said that if the administration hopes to get a state growth plan, it must propose means of funding new public services.

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