Senate OKs measure to curb sprawl Glendening proposal faces uncertain prospects in House

'Time is running out'

Committee's inaction as session nears end upsets bill's backers

March 28, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

The Maryland Senate overwhelmingly approved Gov. Parris N. Glendening's initiative to discourage suburban sprawl yesterday, but the measure is languishing in a House committee and faces an uncertain future in the General Assembly.

In a clear sign of the Smart Growth legislation's problems in the House, with little more than a week left in the assembly's 90-day session it has not been scheduled for a vote in the Environmental Matters Committee

Supporters of the bill are quietly seething over the committee's inaction, noting that it will be difficult to steer such a complicated bill to passage in the House -- and then resolve House and Senate differences -- in a week.

"I'm very concerned. I think time is running out," said Tom Grasso, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"There's been extensive discussion in the House committee. They need to get it moving."

The governor's bill would steer hundreds of millions of dollars in annual state spending into designated areas, with the goal of stemming poorly planned suburban development. Much of the Baltimore and Washington corridor would be included.

Local governments could approve development outside the areas designated for growth, but the state would not provide financial assistance -- for sewers, roads or economic development incentives, for example.

The Senate passed the measure 42-5, with only some rural senators in opposition.

"We cannot afford to chase the last townhouse with roads and sewers," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who helped shepherd the bill through the Senate.

Del. Ronald A. Guns, chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, said yesterday that he had no firm timetable for a vote on the bill. But he said there might be no vote until next week.

"We're trying to understand a very complicated piece of legislation," the Cecil County Democrat said.

Some members of the committee have grown frustrated waiting.

"The chairman dictates the agenda," said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat. "Many of us have gone to him and said we'd like to vote this."

Environmental advocates and some committee members said there are enough votes on the panel to pass a version of the bill. The question, they said, is how strong a bill the committee will approve.

In an effort to step up pressure on legislators, Glendening has vowed to withhold a supplemental budget sought by assembly leaders until the Smart Growth measure is passed -- along with other pieces of his legislative agenda.

"We submitted the bill in January, and they took it up for discussion with less than two weeks before the end of the session," said Steve Larsen, the governor's chief lobbyist. "But we are very willing to spend as much time as the chairman wants us to spend working out this bill."

Another piece of the governor's environmental package -- the "rural legacy" land preservation program -- was passed by the House and Senate yesterday, all but guaranteeing that it will become law.

The bill would set up a program to purchase land and easements on property considered vulnerable to development. The administration estimates that the state would spend $138 million on the land-preservation effort in the next five years.

The state would borrow about $90 million of that amount by selling bonds. The rest would be diverted from existing land-preservation and parks programs.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Carroll County Republican, was among the few who voted against the bill in the House. "It's another effort to infringe upon the property rights of our citizens," he said. "This is a 'big government' bill."

Del. George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee that studied the bill, disagreed, noting that property owners would not be required to sell to the state.

"This bill, as it is written, does not infringe upon property rights," Edwards said. "A lot of people want to curb development. This is another mechanism to keep land open and keep it from developers."

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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