'Smart Growth' at a crossroads Hearings begin: Governor's long-term land-use strategy benefits urban and rural areas.

February 27, 1997

GOV. PARRIS N. Glendening huddled with cabinet members a year ago to devise a catchy phrase to describe a complex concept for guiding Maryland's development patterns deep into the 21st century. Community Preservation? No. Community Conservation? Nah. Sustainability? Yuk. None grabbed him.

He wanted a description reflecting his middle-ground philosophy, something far-reaching, not overreaching. Someone in the room suggested "Smarter Growth," but that seemed too sweeping an indictment of 50 years of suburban sprawl, even if it was deserved. Instead, they settled simply on "Smart Growth."

Coming up with the right buzzword may seem insignificant, but the packaging of his sweeping approach was important. That will become more apparent as "Smart Growth" begins a steep climb through the General Assembly with a Senate hearing today.

The governor is treading on ground that proved a minefield for his predecessors. Marvin Mandel, Harry Hughes and William Donald Schaefer all sought greater control over development. A Sunday drive past a succession of neon-bathed strip malls and subdivisions penned in by cow pastures will attest to their limited successes.

Even foes inclined to believe that Mr. Glendening is overstepping his bounds must give this a hard look. Counties are struggling to keep up with schools and roads to serve farflung growth. Lawmakers face pressure to cut taxes as infrastructure demands mount.

Though the governor's staff held many town meetings, it was late getting a finished product to the legislature. Mr. Glendening failed to meld broad support, as evidenced by the Maryland Association of Counties' vote against making a recommendation this time.

This plan should not be seen as a gubernatorial power play, however. Mr. Glendening could, in fact, begin directing money to projects that reflect his philosophy without this bill. But he craves legislation because that might build a more lasting framework. With many coastal states seeking similar remedies, Mr. Glendening isn't ahead of his time with "smart growth." Rather, years of evidence of sprawl's costs, ecological damage and quality-of-life shortcomings have finally caught up with his philosophy.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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