Shoreline disappears as state tries to keep track Without records, statistics, officials don't really know what growth is possible

July 21, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Nobody knows the extent of shoreline development in Maryland.

Records tracking homebuilding at the water's edge are nonexistent. The little information available is sketchy and anecdotal and vague, focusing on the side effects of growth rather than actual statistics showing the pace of shoreline development.

So as Southern Maryland's population surges -- government planners estimate Calvert, St. Mary's and Charles counties will double in population to 408,800 people by 2020 -- some environmentalists worry that by the time the state takes stock of what has been lost to development, the shoreline will have disappeared.

"It's easy for environmental groups to focus on one huge development, but who's going to focus on one little guy building on one lot?" asked Edward DeBellevue, a Calvert County environmentalist. "When you have thousands of these guys doing that, that's going to add up. And we're not even aware of what the larger impact is going to be."

Said Ren Serey, who heads the 19-member Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission, the state's oversight agency for shoreline development: "This is a source of ongoing frustration for us. We have no idea how much growth is possible out there. I wish I had an answer."

The state Office of Planning doesn't keep statistics. The Critical Area Commission abandoned its effort to count the number of buildable shorefront lots six years ago after struggling with incomplete county land maps.

Southern Maryland's overseers of shoreline development -- from county commissioners to local planning and zoning staffers -- say they are suffering with limited resources to monitor vast stretches of waterfront. What data they have often are mismatched county to county, offering no clear picture of building activity across the Southern Maryland coast.

"Every year we are more and more overwhelmed," said Eddie Dichter, who implements Critical Area Law regulations in Calvert County. "It's just insane."

The counties may be armed with more information in the future. The University of Maryland Baltimore County and two federal science agencies are developing a computer program that will show growth along the Chesapeake Bay. The program will combine land maps, satellite photographs, census data and tax information to show snapshots of development in the region.

Some don't think that is necessary.

"There's a different mind-set now," says Sarah Taylor-Rogers, who headed the Critical Area Commission for 11 years before Serey took over in 1995. "People are moving from inland spots and there's less emphasis on locating by the water."

Others put so much stock in the Critical Area Law that they don't think it is necessary to monitor growth on the waterfront.

"Shoreline development is not a very interesting subject to me," said Gary Hodge, executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland. "I don't have a need to know that. I don't have an interest in it. I don't see that as an issue."

But environmentalists fear just this attitude.

"In effect, the counties are asleep at the wheel here," said George Maurer, an environmental planner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "There is only so much shoreline. You'd think it would be something we're monitoring."

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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