Legislators agree on growth bill Compromise measure geared to ending sprawling suburbs

'Certainly a step forward'

State aid would go only to development in designated areas

April 05, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The governor and key legislators signed off yesterday on a compromise bill to stem suburban sprawl, clearing the way for final passage today of the General Assembly's No. 1 environmental issue.

After several negotiating sessions over the past few days, legislators agreed to a Smart Growth measure that left parties on hTC all sides less than enthusiastic -- a sign, they said, that the bill is probably a fair one.

"It's a pretty good bill," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who helped shape the final version. "It's certainly a step forward from where we are now."

Barring problems drafting the last amendments to the bill, it was expected to win final approval from the Assembly today.

Proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, 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-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 governor's bill with few major changes. However, the House weakened it considerably, bowing to concerns of local governments worried about losing their control of land-use decisions.

Under pressure from Glendening, who had withheld his supplemental budget until a bill was on its way to his desk, both sides worked to find a compromise.

For example, the final bill does not give the state Office of Planning the power to unilaterally reject state-funded projects that would fall outside a growth area. The agency had that power in the governor's bill, but the provision was strongly opposed by the Maryland Association of Counties.

Environmentalists won some concessions as well. The bill, for instance, does not include a "loophole" that would have allowed any road project now in the state's transportation plan to go forward, whether or not it falls in a designated growth area.

Frosh and environmentalists took half a loaf on another issue -- whether developments must have public water and sewer systems to qualify for state assistance, as the governor had wanted. Under the compromise bill, industrial areas and office parks would qualify as growth areas as long as they have public sewers. County governments wanted areas to qualify by having water service, which is less expensive than sewers.

Del. Ronald A. Guns, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee and an opponent of the bill at the beginning of the session, said he could live with the final product.

"There are a lot of points in the bill that I'm more comfortable with than at the outset," said Guns, a Cecil County Democrat. "It should be a partnership between state and local government."

Judi Scioli, a spokeswoman for the governor, said he had given his approval to the compromise bill, believing it "will truly make a difference for people."

Tom Grasso, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called the bill a major change in state policy, even in its somewhat watered-down version.

"Despite the details, the legislation represents a major shift in the way state fiscal policy addresses growth," Grasso said. "We got the train turned around and that's a giant step for protecting the Chesapeake Bay."

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, head of Maryland Clean Water Action, said the bill would have an immediate impact on local governments. "People will begin to look at their plans for growth and see if they conform to the new law," she said. "This gives notice that development patterns have to change if they want to be subsidized by the state."

David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, which pushed for major changes in the governor's bill and obtained some, said the final product appears to be a reasonable compromise.

L "I think there was give and take on all sides," Bliden said.

Pub Date: 4/05/97

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