We Must Move Now to Save Open Space

COMMENT

December 06, 1992|By BRIAN SULLAM

As I drove to work the other morning, I saw a fox loping across a newly plowed field.

I slowed the down to watch him. He seemed oblivious to the stream of cars passing about 200 feet away. His gaze was fixed on a stand of trees at the other end of the field.

Another driver, who must have noticed the fox, slowed down and pulled up behind me. Both of us watched him disappear into the woods.

We looked at each other, smiled and resumed our commutes.

One of Carroll's pleasures is that nature is very close to everyday life. Besides the cows and horses grazing on the side of the roads, I have seen woodchucks, chipmunks and raccoons. I have watched geese flying in ragged formations to their winter homes, hawks riding the winds and circling fields and crows slowly flapping their large wings while they patrol for food.

As Carroll's population grows, and as developers transform woodlands and fields into homes, shopping centers and industrial buildings, the county's citizens have to make every effort to ensure future generations the same opportunity to enjoy the county's natural assets.

As much as the current residents would like to freeze development where it is -- or turn it back to where it was 20 or 30 years ago -- that is impossible.

Even if there weren't any migration from the region's other jurisdictions, the county's population would grow as today's children mature into adults and have their own children. These new families need to be housed. But there will be migration as people, seeking the peace and quiet of rural areas, migrate from Baltimore's and Washington's urban and suburban areas to Carroll.

The test for the county is to allow change and, at the same time, maintain, or if possible, improve Carroll's quality of life. Open space is an important component. The citizens and government are now making decisions that will have long-range consequences. Decisions about development may mean the difference between open space and endless tracts of houses.

Once farmland is turned into houses, it is no longer going to grow food. Once woodlands are cut down, generations may pass before the woods return to their natural beauty, even if the land is never developed.

Too often we lose sight of this and ignore the long-range consequences of our actions.

Throughout the entire debate over the county's forest conservation bill, the developers' major argument was an unsubstantiated assertion that the county version might raise costs for future home buyers. They never made an argument that the model ordinance they favored would result in the preservation of woodlands. With the economy in the doldrums, Carroll's elected officials have paid close attention to the impact of government action on business.

Investments in open space need to be made today -- before the land is committed to development and the price becomes too high. With public budgets strained, buying land for open space is often at the bottom of the list of priorities.

The Southwest Carroll County Comprehensive Plan will be a real test of the county's will to preserve the county's physical assets -- farmlands and woods -- while it allows development. As proposed, the plan calls for the preservation of as much agricultural land as possible. This desire meshes nicely with with the county's master plan, which has a goal of keeping at least 100,000 acres in agricultural use.

It also introduces the notion of villages. Instead of scattering residential development over the landscape -- two houses per acre, for example -- the new concept calls for concentrating development to maximize the amount of open space and preserve the natural contours of the land. It could result in the creation of commons -- networks of open spaces dedicated to public use and enjoyment.

If the plan is adopted, it will force everyone from the commissioners to home builders to rethink their approach to development.

There will be more government controls over development, and there will be plenty of opposition from developers and even non-developers who philosophically oppose more government intervention.

While the uncontrolled and unchecked urban sprawl may be profitable for developers, it has been detrimental to the rest of us who want our children to see the foxes, hawks and geese, too.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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