Redirecting growth in Maryland Glendening priority: Saving farmland and urban centers takes on new urgency.

June 22, 1996

IN THE NEXT 25 years, Maryland's population is expected to climb by 20 percent. The state is also expected to lose 500,000 acres of farmland and 250,000 acres of forests to residential and business growth. Population sprawl would leave urban centers even more impoverished and exacerbate the costs to suburban governments of providing essential services to far-flung residents.

These are the reasons Gov. Parris N. Glendening is looking for ways to change growth patterns. He told a recent conference on watershed management that he intends to make proposals at the next General Assembly session to redirect population back into the cities and away from farmland. He will need broad support to succeed.

Over the past quarter-century, governors have tried and failed to control sprawl. Little headway has been made. The gravitational pull toward open spaces and away from cities is strong. Any restraints on land use draw protests from developers and property owners.

But the time is fast approaching when local and state governments can no longer support suburban sprawl. Where is the money to come LEG 2 BEGINS HERE from, planners ask, for all those new schools and roads and trash removal and fire and police protection? In an era of downsizing, it is time for elected leaders to re-think growth policies.

Rejuvenating existing, aging communities is one promising avenue. Governments can give tax breaks and grants to those willing to open businesses and shops and buy homes in these neighborhoods, which often are in need of extra attention to remove blight and develop new vigor. Mr. Glendening has led the way by redirecting state construction funds to older neighborhood schools. Over time, this could make current schools far more appealing for young parents when they decide where to live.

The governor also needs more muscle to dissuade developers from embarking on massive projects far from existing services. Both incentives and disincentives will have to be used.

Environmentalists must join this struggle, too. There is no greater threat to the Chesapeake Bay watershed than unrestrained growth. Farmers, too, could see their way of life threatened in much of Maryland if sprawl continues unabated.

More sensible use of the land could be the salvation for aging communities. The governor needs to build a formidable array of allies on this sensitive issue. It is worth the fight: Maryland's quality of life could be at stake.

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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