Smart Growth plan draws strong support in first Senate hearing But many rural legislators are skeptical about bill

February 28, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth proposal received strong support from environmentalists, municipal officials and others at a hearing yesterday but still faces a tough sell in the General Assembly.

Many rural legislators, including a key House chairman, remain skeptical about the proposal, fearing it would mean the loss of state funds for projects in their areas and too much state intrusion in local land-use matters.

The governor's bill, one of his priorities for the 90-day legislative session, would direct that hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds could be spent only in designated growth areas. They would include cities, other municipalities and existing or planned developments of a certain density.

Glendening hopes that would encourage local governments to curb sprawling development.

"This bill is about focusing state spending -- to reduce sprawl and 'leapfrogging' development," Steve Larsen, the governor's chief lobbyist, told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee in the first legislative airing of the proposal.

A series of proponents, from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to the Greater Baltimore Committee, testified in support of the bill.

The Senate committee, which generally supports environmental issues, is expected to look favorably on the governor's bill.

"I think it's a good, common-sense approach to the problem," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and one of the legislature's leaders on environmental issues.

Administration officials are having a tougher time with rural legislators. Glendening has signed off on some changes in the bill to placate opponents and more are being considered, Larsen said.

For example, the administration has proposed amending the bill to allow state money to be spent on projects in so-called "rural villages" -- something pushed by rural lawmakers, particularly those from the Eastern Shore, where there are relatively few areas that would qualify as Smart Growth zones.

Several people who testified suggested that the legislature postpone the issue until next year to give more time for discussion.

Among those with reservations about the bill are Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat who heads the House committee that must consider it.

Guns said that, among other concerns, he questions the expertise of the Board of Public Works in granting exceptions to the restrictions in the bill.

He said time is running short for approval of such a controversial measure and laid some of the responsibility for that with the governor's office.

Among those testifying against the bill were groups representing Realtors, builders and farmers.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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