Going Slow on Growth Controls

November 24, 1991

The Schaefer administration has heeded the admonitions of local county officials and developers to go slow on drawing up new growth controls for Maryland. While this move doesn't please environmentalists, it could set the stage for broader, cooperative action in later years by state and local governments to encourage compact, efficient use of Maryland's remaining open spaces.

Last spring, Gov. William Donald Schaefer learned a bitter lesson about land-use control proposals: without the active support of county governments, such efforts are doomed. An administration bill to funnel high-density development into areas with existing infrastructure and to safeguard sensitive environmental land met overwhelming resistance. Now administration officials are formulating a less ambitious proposal that offers significant opportunities to improve the state's haphazard land-use planning.

A key aspect of the administration's proposal is that counties would not be forced to meet minimum standards set by the zTC state. Instead, the counties would simply have to ensure that their comprehensive plans provide for protecting sensitive areas. How each county goes about this important task -- such as shielding streams from pollution and development -- will be up to local planning and zoning officials. The state's role will be limited to reviewing annual reports. Annapolis can critique these local reports, but will be powerless to force changes on the counties.

The governor's plan also requires that within five years all local zoning plans conform with a county's comprehensive plan. This is a common-sense step that many counties have avoided. It will put pressure on counties to actually implement the mandates of their comprehensive plans when zoning decisions are made.

Only state agencies would be forced to adopt new growth-management policies. The state would thus take the lead in setting an example for land-use planning.

Compared with the sweeping recommendations of the 2020 Commission on growth management in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the governor's latest plan is a modest step forward. But its enactment would set the tone for cooperative state-county efforts in future years to curb helter-skelter development of Maryland's fast-dwindling pastures and farmland.

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