Smarting over growth plan Tough sell: Delegates more sympathetic than senators to concerns raised by counties.

March 29, 1997

GOV. PARRIS N. GLENDENING's much-heralded "Smart Growth" bill is in trouble. County officials remain leery of a bill that they fear could give state bureaucrats life-or-death power over local development areas. They have raised five major objections that ought to be answered.

None of the requests by the Maryland Association of Counties is a "killer." The group has valid concerns and has identified potential land mines in this complex bill. We urge House leaders to expedite floor consideration of a modified version of this bill.

While the Glendening administration has hinted darkly at political motives for the bill's failure to move to the House floor until late in the session, the situation is not that simple. No doubt, Speaker Casper R. Taylor, a likely gubernatorial candidate, isn't eager to see the governor's bill pass intact. But rural legislators, especially committee chairman Ronald A. Guns of Cecil County, have strong reservations about the impact of this legislation on their counties.

They worry that "Smart Growth" could lead to a shift in Maryland state aid for roads, schools, sewers and economic development to the suburbs, leaving rural Maryland without resources to attract new families and industries.

Larger counties have their share of qualms, too. For instance, some provisions of the original bill might discourage industries from locating in Maryland because the sites won't be eligible for state aid and loans.

Language in the bill excludes some 100 communities from future state aid because they have public water but no sewer system. (( Other wording gives the state's Office of Planning more enforcement power than county officials feel is wise.

The governor's bill, which has passed the Senate, is well intentioned. It is a necessary step in re-focusing public resources near existing infrastructure. But, as is often noted, the devil is in the details. Mr. Glendening didn't reach consensus with county officials before submitting his bill. He also didn't work closely with legislators. Now he is paying the price.

If the governor wishes to change the public mind-set about where people want to live, he needs to reach out to all interested parties in this debate. Otherwise, resistance to "Smart Growth" could greatly dilute its effectiveness.

Mr. Taylor should push for quick House approval early next week. That will leave plenty of time to settle House-Senate differences in a conference committee.

"Smart Growth" is smart only if county officials become active supporters of this land management plan.

Pub Date: 3/29/97

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