Troubling Growth Amendments

March 29, 1992

In trying to fashion a growth-management plan acceptable to environmental activists, a Senate committee may have put the entire measure in jeopardy. If Maryland is to make any headway this year on land-use controls, compromise is essential.

The Schaefer administration, working with local governments, developers and farmers, crafted a bill that would force localities to identify sensitive areas and to plot coordinated strategies to protect them and handle population growth. This bill passed the House of Delegates with surprising ease -- probably because the governor turned last year's enemies into this year's allies.

But this was not good enough for environmental purists. They want the state to dictate development limits to localities, a politically impossible goal at the moment. A tough land management package recommended by the 2020 Commission last year failed miserably. Now the governor wants a milder growth-oversight bill as a sensible first step. It would, at the least, get counties thinking about this problem in a cooperative manner.

That approach is worth pursuing. Yet the Senate committee, to appease zealous environmentalist-legislators, attached three amendments to the bill that could kill it. The first amendment would require a state commission to develop an elaborate plan for Maryland's air, water and land resources and for each watershed. Such an enormous undertaking is beyond the capability of that state agency. It also would be the first one of its kind in the country. It is too complex and impractical.

The second amendment would force the state to withhold aid from any project in conflict with either state or local growth plans. This could give small towns veto power over multi-jurisdictional projects. It is too arbitrary and inflexible.

The third amendment would essentially turn farmland into "sensitive areas" under the law, subjecting that land to stringent regulation. This proposal has upset farmers -- and for good reason. It is an overly sweeping amendment that ignores the needs and desires of the farming community.

When this bill reaches conference committee, we urge Senate negotiators to heed the pleas of the Schaefer administration and House negotiators. Once localities are engaged in the growth management process, once the state is put in a position to guide this discussion, stronger land management steps will be possible. But we won't get to that stage unless the Senate agrees to remove or modify these three objectionable amendments. It is better to emerge from this legislative session with a modest growth-control victory than no victory at all.

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