The growth-control governor Slowing sprawl: Local officials should back Glendening's land-use initiative.

July 02, 1996

PARRIS N. GLENDENING has talked about being the education governor, the business governor, the law and order governor. But a generation from now, he might best be remembered as the "growth-control governor" if the vision he laid out at the Maryland Municipal League's annual meeting last week comes to fruition.

He wants a more sensible system of land planning. One that discourages dense building deep in the countryside. One that doesn't make neighborhoods "disposable" after 40 years. One that invites the middle-class to choose the urban core as a place to raise children.

We're encouraged that Mr. Glendening's speech didn't elicit howls from county leaders. A former town councilman and county executive, the governor appears sensitive to concerns that planning and zoning is very much a local domain. He wants to build consensus before setting new policies and legislation.

The counties have every reason to support him. A slew of smaller jurisdictions -- Carroll, Queen Anne's, Garrett -- had to sock their residents with hefty tax increases this spring to meet pressing infrastructure demands. Meanwhile, the state's larger counties -- Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Harford -- have been pouring money into older areas to offset concentrated poverty and crime.

Cynicism is ingrained deep in some of these neighborhoods after years of watching government aid and attention follow the outmigration of residents and business. "People say, 'Good, you're finally going to re-do my alley. It'll make it easier to sell my house,'" laments P. David Fields, who has been heading Baltimore County's effort to revitalize its old eastside.

It has taken 20 years to chase people out of the city and close-in communities; it may take 10 or 20 more to coax them back. Developers argue that the public wants detached homes on postage-stamp lots in the suburbs, but attractive, affordable alternatives might convince buyers otherwise. Also, aging baby-boomers will have less reason to chase school systems.

Though it may need a catchier title, the governor's "neighborhood conservation and smart growth" initiative has great potential environmental, social and economic benefits. It must not get bogged down in petty turf squabbles between state and local officialdom.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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