Md. moving to contain sprawl As suburbs grow, state aims to steer residents to older communities

Redevelopment favored

Loans to homebuyers, fixing schools, roads included in campaign

August 08, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Using low-interest loans, school construction plans and road-building funds, Maryland has begun an assault on suburban sprawl.

The financial incentives and policy changes are the first steps in a move to encourage residents to forgo new housing developments and live in older communities such as Towson and Catonsville. And more could come -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening has told state agencies to scrutinize their procedures and policies, exposing any that favor new development over redevelopment.

Some examples so far: State officials are rewriting school construction policies to encourage renovation of older schools rather than new building. Low-interest mortgage programs are being broadened to include more affluent homebuyers and more expensive homes. And the state is pouring millions into older neighborhoods to patch up streets and sidewalks.

"This is not an attempt to tell any individual where they have to live," says Ronald N. Young, deputy director of the Maryland Office of Planning and the point man for Maryland's growth-control campaign. "There are thousands of options and many single-family houses with grass.

"We're just trying to increase the options in existing places. We're trying to invest the state's money where it's wisest."

Glendening also has pledged a broader campaign against sprawl, and plans to release details next month.

That program could spark controversy among local officials, who are leery of state-mandated constraints on land use. Homebuilders and developers also could be roadblocks. And the governor faces another potent force: the thousands of Marylanders determined to find their American dream at the end of a cul de sac.

To reverse the 50-year pattern of sprawl, the state will need more than new laws, reworked policies and financial incentives. Planners say Maryland will need the help of demographic and social changes.

The state will need people such as Anne and Don Prouse, who moved from Harford County to Baltimore County to be closer to their jobs and aging parents, and Jody and Brent Trostle, a young couple who preferred an older neighborhood to a new housing development.

After 13 years in Harford County, the Prouses moved five years ago to the Towson neighborhood where Don Prouse grew up. The move cut Anne Prouse's commute to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, where she is a nurse, from 50 minutes to 10, and his drive to a car-leasing management job in Hunt Valley from 45 minutes to 20.

The money they save in gasoline, trash collection fees and water bills more than makes up for the added taxes on their 40-year-old split-level in Campus Hills.

"When I go back to Harford County, I wonder how I ever did it," Anne Prouse says.

The Trostles rented a townhouse in Howard County for two years, but when the young couple decided to buy a home, they chose Stoneleigh, just south of Towson in Baltimore County.

They are closer to their jobs in the city, they love the charm of their 56-year-old slate-roofed Colonial, and they are confident that when they have children, the neighborhood schools will provide a good education.

"We fell in love with the older feel of the neighborhood," says Brent Trostle.

"It's more our style," Jody Trostle adds.

Planners hope to convince about 400,000 of the 1.1 million new people expected to come to Maryland in the next 25 years to choose homes in existing neighborhoods.

That would mean reversing a long trend of suburban sprawl. Since 1970, the state's population has grown by 1 million people, but the older urban centers have lost more than 400,000 people.

Land-use patterns have changed, too. Despite some successful developments on small lots in older communities, the size of lots in Maryland is increasing. From 1985 to 1993, the size of the average new developed lot increased by 25 percent, to 0.57 acres.

And increasingly, the lots are farther from shopping and work areas. The number of vehicle miles traveled in Maryland jumped 47 percent from 1980 to 1990.

If the present pattern continues during the next 25 years, planners predict Maryland will lose a half-million acres of farmland and nearly a quarter-million acres of forests.

Financial costs

The sprawl isn't just an assault on the eyes, it is an assault on state and county coffers at a time when federal aid and tax revenues are down.

A new elementary school, for example, costs about $7 million; a mile of four-lane highway costs about $2.25 million; a new water treatment plant costs about $140 million, and an 8-inch sewer line costs at least $150 a foot.

Glendening already has announced several budgetary and policy changes to encourage revitalization of older neighborhoods.

He has allocated $72 million in transportation funds for community conservation projects during the next six years. That includes $6.2 million to repair streets and sidewalks in older neighborhoods, and $40 million in low-interest mortgage loans to help revitalize older communities.

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