Creeping growth

December 20, 1991

The brouhaha over growth control bubbling up in Harford County puts the lie to the notion that the suburbs are insulated from what used to be called "urban problems." The county is struggling with the inevitable fallout of the middle-class flight from the city, and then from the closer-in metropolitan communities. Unbridled growth puts a tremendous, and costly, burden on local governments, which must provide adequate infrastructure.

But it is hardly that simple. Growth, in fact, is an enormously explosive issue for politicians. Elizabeth Bobo lost her job as Howard's executive in part because of the public furor created by her vision of restricted growth. Now Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann faces an equally trying situation.

Rehrmann's "adequate public facilities" bill, which would block new housing that increased school enrollment beyond 120 percent capacity, has drawn predictable criticism. On one side are growth-control advocates who charge the bill doesn't go far enough. On the other is the doomsday development scenario -- that jobs and taxes would be lost if the bill passes. These competing agendas are complicated by pride, greed and other deadly sins -- the pride of those who don't want anything to change, the greed of developers who want to sell every inch of land they can, and the desire of those who are already in to shut the door behind them. Still, there is a legitimate issue: To what extent can or should the government tell people what to do with their land?

Ultimately, the problem in Harford -- as elsewhere -- comes down to balancing public and private interests. But it is a hard balance to achieve. And in a time of rapid change and heated rhetoric, there are bound to be many political casualties, regardless of what policy is ultimately enacted.

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