House panel dilutes growth curbs Showdown looms with stronger Senate version

March 29, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Moving to protect local land-use prerogatives, a House committee significantly weakened last night legislation proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to curb suburban sprawl.

If the full House endorses the vote by the Environmental Matters Committee, it will set up a showdown with the Senate, which has passed what advocates says is a much stronger version of the bill.

The advocates say they would have a hard time resolving such major differences in the versions of the legislation before the General Assembly adjourns its 90-day session April 7.

"I'm concerned that there are some serious flaws in the product," said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who said he voted for the amended bill reluctantly. "I'm very concerned that this [amended] bill is not effective."

Smart Growth -- the centerpiece of Glendening's environmental legislative package -- 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 bill this week with most of its key pieces in place.

The House committee made several changes that advocates of the bill said would dilute its effectiveness.

For example, the panel removed a clause that would have allowed the state Office of Planning to declare that certain state spending projects should not proceed because they would contribute to sprawl.

"I think this is the crux of the whole bill," said Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's Democrat and a leader on environmental issues.

Representatives of the state's counties opposed the provision, saying it would give the Office of Planning too much say in what should be local land-use decisions.

The committee agreed, but only after Chairman Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat, called for a rare second vote on the matter after the first roll call did not go his way.

Guns said the amended measure would still tend to discourage sprawl but would not disrupt the planning and zoning process, now handled entirely at the local level.

"I think the bill preserves the balance between the state and locals," Guns said.

The committee also changed the bill to make it easier for local developments to win state funding, whether or not they were within designated growth areas.

Steve Larsen, the governor's chief lobbyist, said he would have to study the amendments before commenting.

Pub Date: 3/29/97

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