WERE THOSE splotches of bright red a sign of measles, or of rosy-cheeked salubrity? That's what Carroll County officials had to wonder as they surveyed the governor's proposed "Smart Growth" plan maps of the county last month.
The red patches were the identified, planned growth areas in Carroll, which would quality for all sorts of traditional state funding, such as roads and water/sewer and economic development.
The rest was presumably ineligible under Gov. Parris N. Glendening's effort to restrain wasteful sprawl development by limiting state aid to existing high-density growth clusters and to areas laid out for imminent growth.
For Carroll County, the red areas were concentrated around the incorporated municipalities. Certainly, they are established urban centers that can provide for growth without costly sprawl and leapfrog development burdens, the kind of areas that Mr. Glendening has in mind.
Most important for Carroll County officials, however, was the fact that they don't have much control over what the sovereign towns do. Their main fiefdom is the unincorporated areas of the county, which did not display much crimson on the preview map. Money for the towns, not for the county, was the way they read it.
Never mind that the biggest growth area in Carroll is in unincorporated South Carroll, the Freedom district.
Fact is, there's a lot of uncertainty in what seems on the surface to be a reasonably simple objective: to keep population and business growth from consuming open space and to use existing public facilities effectively.
The program has provoked lots of controversy even before getting to the Maryland General Assembly. Last summer, some Carroll officials worried that the governor might be pushing charter government on the county under the guise of "Smart Growth." Turns out it was just one of many suggestions from individuals and groups who submitted ideas, not a proposal endorsed by Mr. Glendening or a part of his overall program.
At a briefing for Carroll officials, the map showing red high-density areas for priority state spending raised more red flags. The locals saw it as a design for state control, a plan to favor Mr. Glendening's urban political strongholds at the expense of rural counties such as Carroll.
"An initiative by the leadership of the state to get control of land use in the counties," fumed Commissioner Donald I. Dell.
Other officials wondered about the fate of state aid for schools planned in areas that were not designated growth areas on the state's map.
The governor sat down with a few journalists recently to try and clear up some of the misconceptions about his Smart Growth ideas. And to explain some of the details that have emerged in recent months.
First off, the program does not exclude unincorporated areas of Maryland, Mr. Glendening advised. If that were the case, all of Baltimore County would be ineligible for state funding, for example. And Columbia. And Bethesda and Silver Spring. The focus is on funding projects in existing growth areas, incorporated or not.
Next, the governor's plan does not apply to schools or connector roads. Children's education should not be jeopardized by poor local planning and development, Mr. Glendening explained. And roads are needed to connect existing roads in order to improve traffic flow to and from existing growth centers.
Finally, the state is not dictating where growth should occur, but is following the master land-use plans of the local jurisdictions, he said. Where these jurisdictions have planned for and provided for growth centers, those areas would be eligible for state project funding (on the usual competitive basis, of course).
Mr. Glendening cited a planned industrial development in Allegany County that would eat up a large, historic farm instead of using vacant industrial sites where roads and facilities already are in place. County officials have blessed the new project, eager for the economic development. But the governor said that even with such regional benefits the state would not pay toward roads or sewer works that might be required.
The governor also attempted to deflect criticism of his Rural Legacy initiative that aims to protect a quarter-million acres from development over the next 15 years, through easements and outright land purchases. That program would be financed from existing funds, Mr. Glendening stressed.
That funding is the cause of concern in Carroll and other rural counties, which fear the money would be siphoned away from the state's established farmland preservation program. Rural Legacy would aim to preserve integral, open space greenbelts around high-density communities, rather than preserving scattered farm sites for agricultural use.
Smart growth may not be smart politics. But Professor Glendening is learning himself even as he tries to educate others in his growth-control philosophy.
Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.
Pub Date: 1/12/97