Sprawl of jobs reaches farther Businesses expected to continue march into outer suburbs

March 23, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

When Warren Wilson looks out on a 120-acre parcel off Interstate 95 in Harford County, the Rouse Co. executive sees the opportunity to build a regional mall that would pump $1 million a year into the local economy and create 1,500 jobs.

Tony Oleszczuk, who lives in the area, sees only the threat of more sprawl and traffic jams. "It's too much," says Oleszczuk, president of the Riverside Neighborhood Association, a community near the proposed mall. "People are saying, 'Enough, enough.' "

But despite community protests and a state effort to control sprawl, state planners predict that stores, offices and warehouses will continue to follow homebuyers farther into the outer suburbs -- and will take with them thousands of jobs.

Only 8 percent of jobs created in the region over the next 20 years will be in the city, while 65 percent will be in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, says the Maryland Office of Planning. And by the end of that period, planners say, Baltimore will no longer be the region's biggest job center -- ceding that distinction to Baltimore County.

Local planners are refining data to determine which neighborhoods are likely to get the new jobs, but they know the news is not good for the city and Baltimore County's older suburbs.

Job sprawl is robbing those communities of economic vitality, while limiting opportunities for those who do not drive -- the young, the old, the poor. At the same time, it is thwarting efforts to preserve forests and farms in the outer suburbs.

Job sprawl has become "one of the major challenges for the region. It's an inefficient and uneconomic form of development," says Josef Nathanson, director of economic research and information at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.

State officials are fighting the trend with strategies, including redevelopment of industrial sites and tax breaks for companies expanding in older neighborhoods. Another effort is the recently passed brownfields legislation, designed to encourage companies to clean polluted sites and redevelop the property.

Still, the fundamental economic forces that have pushed companies farther and farther from Baltimore's heart have not been altered.

And with the region's outer suburbs clamoring for corporate development to offset residential growth, any turnaround will come grudgingly.

Reasons for job sprawl vary. Frequently, companies outgrow their downtown locations and find it cheaper and easier to expand in the suburbs, which offer ample land and free parking.

And often they are following the workers.

United HealthCare officials agonized over their recent decision to move the bulk of the company's operations from the city to Woodlawn. The managed-care company had started in Baltimore and officials felt an obligation to stay. But the company had outgrown its space and wanted free parking and a more `D convenient location for workers.

When the company looked at where most of its workers lived -- Harford and Baltimore counties and the Washington suburbs -- the move made sense.

"We saw Security Boulevard as being almost the midway point," said Carolyn Douglas, manager of facilities.

The company split its operations, leaving some workers in the city while most moved to a renovated building in Woodlawn.

Many major companies are going even farther, seeking secluded corporate campuses and large undeveloped tracts. Rural Loveton in northern Baltimore County, for example, has attracted Fila USA, McCormick & Co. and Integrated Health Services.

Baltimore's share of the area's jobs dropped from 46 percent in 1982 to 35 percent in 1995, the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson State University estimates. And recent reviews of data between 1990 and 1996 showed job losses in almost every part of the city and the inner suburbs of Baltimore County, while the biggest growth came in Bel Air, Columbia and almost all of Carroll County.

Economist Robert Riva of the economic studies institute sees the number of jobs in Baltimore growing slowly, while rapid suburban job growth continues.

Between 1982 and 1995, Anne Arundel County's share of the regional work force grew from 12.4 percent to 15.7 percent, Baltimore County's increased from 29 percent to 30.4 percent, Carroll County's grew from 2.6 percent to 3.6 percent, Harford's grew from 4 percent to 5.2 percent and Howard County's grew from 5.4 percent to 8.9 percent.

But the community costs of such development patterns are mounting. Governments build roads and extend water and sewer lines. Roads are congested, neighborhoods changed by commercial development.

Some of the hottest battles in recent years have been against commercial developments, such as a proposed Wal-Mart in Howard County, a Price Club in Timonium, a Target on Reisterstown Road and malls in Harford County.

Still, suburban counties depend on such development to help pay the costs of residential sprawl.

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