House keeps weakened growth bill Delegates balk at efforts to undo committee changes

Doesn't stop development

Measure sets up likely confrontation over Senate's version

April 01, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Pro-environment lawmakers failed last night in the House of Delegates to put some teeth back into what they say is a defanged bill to curb suburban sprawl.

In a series of votes, the House resisted efforts to undo changes made last week by a House committee to the Smart Growth bill, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's No. 1 environmental initiative.

Advocates for the bill, including representatives of the governor, lamented the position the House is taking on the bill.

"If you understand the subtleties, it guts it," said Ronald L. Young, deputy director of the state Office of Planning and the governor's point man on the Smart Growth issue.

"This bill doesn't stop or smarten up any development," added Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Maryland director of Clean Water Action.

The House actions set up a potential confrontation with the Senate, which has passed what advocates say is a much more effective measure.

The differences between the House and Senate versions would have to be reconciled in a joint conference committee if the legislation is to be enacted before the Assembly adjourns Monday.

As proposed by the governor and endorsed by the Senate, the legislation would steer hundreds of millions of dollars in annual 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 House committee endorsed the basic premise of the bill, but it made several changes that would dilute or thwart its effectiveness, advocates say. The panel:

Rejected an oversight role for the state Office of Planning in the awarding of state-funded projects. County governments bristled at the prospect that state planning bureaucrats in Baltimore would hold a "stealth veto" over funding. But environmentalists insist that planners will have to resolve disputes over whether a project legitimately falls within a designated growth area.

Broadened the criteria for allowing state money to be spent on a local development. The governor had proposed, for example, that developments that already have public water and sewer systems should qualify in many circumstances. The House committee amended the bill so that developments with water or sewer would qualify, a change that would allow state spending to proceed in many additional developments.

Inserted a "grandfather" clause that would allow any transportation project on the state's five-year building plan as of October 1998 to go forward, whether or not it met the criteria of the Smart Growth bill.

"It doesn't matter if it's the Road to Ruin. It's grandfathered in," Schmidt-Perkins said.

Del. Ronald A. Guns, who used his power as committee chairman to force through some of the changes in the bill, said he believes the amended measure upholds an important principle -- that local government should retain control of land-use decisions.

Guns, a Cecil County Democrat, asserted that the measurewould help check unplanned development, and he dismissed complaints that the bill was weakened significantly.

"The enviros will not be happy unless they have state government taking over planning and zoning. Period," Guns said.

Glendening has raised the stakes on the anti-sprawl bill, vowing not to submit a supplemental budget package until the measure is enacted.

Young, the governor's representative on the bill, said that without that threat, he doubted the House committee would have even taken up the bill yet.

"I just hope [the governor] holds out for a good bill, not just any bill," Young said.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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