Saving the bay with a carrot Suburban sprawl: Environmentalists wrongly see governor's effort as 'half-empty.'

September 07, 1996

GOV. PARRIS N. GLENDENING wants to use a big carrot. Environmentalists prefer a big stick. That is the crux of the difference between the governor, who has been emphasizing a redirection of suburban growth patterns, and environmental leaders, who fear the governor is not being authoritative enough.

The environmentalists hearken back to Gov. Marvin Mandel's 1973 warning to Marylanders about the ecological costs of sprawl. Indeed, we've lost nearly 80 percent of bay wetlands as development has gobbled up farmland and open space for subdivisions, shopping centers and highways farther from the cities. They believe that the governor must issue statewide zoning guidelines and that local governments that violate them should forfeit highway aid and other money.

The governor, however, understands that this is not 1973. The era of big government is over, as the Democratic president himself proclaimed. An effort to create a "super zoning board" to control land use statewide died once and would be less apt to win the day now.

Mr. Glendening is trying to adopt a less threatening approach. He's funneling money into school renovations and home loans for older communities to make the urban core more inviting to the middle-class. He doesn't plan for the new emphasis inward to end there, but some environmentalists aren't impressed.

"Have you ever seen a major social change take place with a carrot?" asks William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, mentioning bans on firearms and tobacco. We don't have a firm answer to his rhetorical question, but we do know the population shift to the suburbs over 40 years can hardly be lumped in with guns and cigarettes.

That could explain some environmentalists' differences with the governor. They see the hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who have moved to the suburbs the past two generations as having committed a crime befitting punishment. Mr. Glendening knows better: Market forces (crime, schools, land prices) pushed people outward. He wants to employ market forces (infrastructure investment) to nudge them back. He also understands that land-use reform is like welfare reform: After 40 years of failure, it's time for a new tack.

Pub Date: 9/07/96

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