Counties are reassured they still control sprawl Glendening says in speech localities won't lose power over development issues @

August 18, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening gave Maryland's local officials a firm assurance yesterday that his much-touted initiative to contain "sprawl" will not infringe on their jealously guarded local powers.

"I am not interested in overruling local and county officials. I do not want a state zoning board. I will not usurp your authority," the governor told participants at the Maryland Association of Counties' summer convention.

Glendening's promise not to step on local toes in his efforts to curb runaway development was not entirely new, but his unequivocal public pledge was warmly welcomed.

Many of the local county executives, council members, commissioners and mayors who came to the MACO gathering arrived with deep concerns that the anti-sprawl initiative would include coercive measures or encroach on the authority of local zoning boards.

"What the governor has done here is very responsibly allay that by going back to his local government roots," said David S. Bliden, executive director of MACO.

Glendening said that rather than attempting to dictate local policy, he would use the "bully pulpit" of his office to promote growth control and his budgeting powers to provide incentives to redevelop existing neighborhoods.

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, a Republican, said the Democratic governor was "right on target" in his approach to channeling growth into already developed areas.

"You can't make people do that. You've got to make people want to do that," Gary said.

While county officials are skittish about any hint of state coercion, most seemed to share Glendening's concern about sprawling development in places that lack the infrastructure to support growth. The governor warned yesterday that if the growth patterns of the past 25 years are repeated, Maryland will lose 500,000 acres of farmland and 250,000 acres of forest over ** the next 25 years.

For Glendening, the warm response his speech received gave an upbeat end to a convention that was marked by a strong undercurrent of disappointment with the governor's performance in office. Many said controversies over ethics, Baltimore schools, collective bargaining and gambling have taken a severe toll on Glendening's never-stellar popularity.

But MACO is still reasonably friendly territory for Glendening, who noted yesterday that this year's summer gathering was the 23rd in a row he has attended. Elected county officials generally gave the former Prince George's County executive and councilman high marks for increasing aid to local schools at a time when he was cutting the overall state budget.

If any of the delegates had forgotten, Glendening made sure to remind them in his speech yesterday. In loving detail, he rattled off numbers and percentages underscoring his solicitous treatment of local education: a $190 million increase in spending on education programs, $140 million allocated for school construction, $28 million for community colleges.

The traditional governor's address easily achieved Glendening's stated goal "not to drop big surprises" on his fellow elected officials. But he did give some signals of his priorities as he approaches his third General Assembly session as governor.

Reining in the cost of college education clearly will be high on the Glendening agenda. Noting that tuition and fees at Maryland's public colleges have more than doubled over the past decade, the governor vowed to introduce a plan to create a prepaid tuition savings program modeled on those in Florida and Massachusetts. Such programs let parents prepay tuition at current rates.

The governor also restated his opposition to casino gambling, a position he announced Monday after reports of a "secret deal" to back slot machines at racetracks.

Many delegates arrived at the convention expressing doubts about Glendening's position. But by yesterday it appeared the governor was making headway in persuading officials that his opposition is heartfelt.

Anne Arundel's Gary said Glendening's words yesterday were "about as strong" as he's ever heard from the governor on casino gambling.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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