Getting smarter about growth Curbing costly sprawl: Early proposals are not yet part of governor's initiative.

September 16, 1996

DESPITE HIS protests to the contrary, there's a persistent suspicion in the outlying counties that Gov. Parris Glendening's campaign against wasteful sprawl development is another way to funnel more state money to his populous political strongholds and an attempt to impose more state control over local land-use decisions.

The perception is nurtured by a list of some 100 ideas from citizens, interest groups, state agencies and localities entitled "Neighborhood Conservation and Smart Growth." The document was given to officials at the Maryland Association of Counties convention last month and their responses were solicited.

It is not the legislative agenda of Mr. Glendening, but a list of outside ideas for consideration. Thoughtful comments on the suggestions will help the governor in drafting his own set of sprawl-control proposals and legislation.

Items in the report cover a broad range of ideas that could help as well as trouble the more rural counties. There's added funding for water and sewer projects to focus development centers, sale of unused state properties for economic development, more money for farmland preservation as a community amenity.

But suggestions to impose charter government on counties have raised the red flag. So have other ideas to give the state more control over local development and shift state funding preferences to already urbanized jurisdictions.

Ten Maryland counties -- including Carroll, Queen Anne's and Frederick in the Baltimore-Washington region -- have commissioner governments instead of charter home rule. In Carroll, the commissioners view the "smart growth" document as a trial balloon to test how much power the state can usurp from the counties; they favor continuation of commissioner government. Frederick officials are likewise skeptical.

This trepidation is unwarranted. Growth-control should be a top priority of these rural but rapidly changing counties. The cost of business-as-usual can be measured in the tax increases some of these jurisdictions recently had to approve. Braking housing sprawl can be done under charter or under commissioner rule, given the political will. Non-charter counties should give the list a fair reading, and work with the governor toward smarter growth.

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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