Seeking to win over a skeptical business community, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has pledged to balance environmental protection with promoting new economic growth and development in his watered-down plan for curbing suburban sprawl in Maryland.
Ronald N. Young, deputy state planning director, told a Maryland Chamber of Commerce meeting yesterday that the governor has added a new goal -- this one stressing the need for economic development -- to the six "visions" or goals that underpin his proposed growth-management plan.
The six visions, first spelled out three years ago, talk about protecting Chesapeake Bay by directing new development to existing cities and towns and slowing the loss of farmland and forests while reducing the costs to government of building new roads, schools and utilities.
The new seventh goal in the governor's growth management bill would emphasize promoting economic growth and streamlining state and local regulations that may hinder development, Young said.
"I'm also very concerned about sprawl and the environment," Young said. "We need to protect that, but we also need to build a consensus."
The governor's latest move seemed to mollify some in the business community, who contend that any curbs on growth might hinder the state's recovery from recession.
The growth-management bill now "may pass because it's more balanced," said D. Robert Enten, a lawyer representing the Maryland Bankers Association.
"It's amazing what a good old-fashioned recession can do to dampen the growth-management movement in Maryland," observed John B. Colvin, who had represented home builders on the governor's growth commission last year. He is senior vice president of Questar Properties.
But state Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel, attacked the administration's latest plan as "worse than nothing" and predicted environmentalists would fight it.
"It just shows an already very weak proposal being compromised further," he said. "They seem hell-bent on getting something passed, even if it isn't going to accomplish much."
Administration officials say new measures are needed to manage a projected increase of 1 million people in Maryland and 640,000 new households in the next 30 years. If sprawl continues, another 700,000 acres of farmland and forests could be lost to development, threatening to undermine a multimillion-dollar, multistate effort to restore Chesapeake Bay.
State planning officials disclosed last month they are drafting legislation that would leave it up to the counties to decide how and where development should occur. The bill also would let local officials say what, if any, additional curbs should be placed on building in environmentally sensitive areas such as flood plains, steep slopes and rare-plant and animal habitat.
That is a far cry from the sweeping bill that Schaefer introduced last year, which required the state's 23 counties to direct future growth to already developed areas.
But that bill was shelved after it drew fire from local officials, who complained the state was trying to usurp their control over land use. The measure also angered builders, bankers, farmers and landowners already upset over the state's Critical Area and wetlands development restrictions.
Schaefer's new growth plan got a qualified endorsement from the Maryland Association of Counties, which had a hand in writing it.
But environmentalists complained it is too vague and weak. Many in the business community also rebuffed it, arguing that no more environmental protections are needed, especially with the building industry in a slump.
Young said that the new legislation alone does relatively little to curb sprawl. But it sets up a "framework" for all parties to work out an acceptable plan, he said, and he warned that the state's problems coping with growth will worsen unless both environmentalists and business interests come to the table.
Enten said inserting new language about economic growth should ease some business skittishness, but he urged state officials to go even further by pledging in writing not to use the bill as a "back-door" way to regulate local land-use decisions.
He also called on them to address farmers' and other landowners' demands that they be compensated for any loss in property values from development curbs.