Angry residents make their point Protesters pack meeting on plan for long-range growth

April 18, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The 350 protesters who packed a community meeting last night on Anne Arundel County's long-range plan for growth in the county's rural areas spoke the rhetoric of fear.

Their signs screamed, "Meet the Monster that could eat South County!" Their T-shirts pleaded, "Save our Home!" They wore bright green stickers with thumbs-down signs.

L They jeered at county planners. One grumbled, "Yuppie scum!"

The county officials who tried to explain the proposed General Development Plan spoke in a different language.

Using an electronic pointer to highlight maps on an overhead projector, they explained that the proposed land-use plan for the next 20 years would discourage suburban sprawl in the south county instead of encouraging it.

The meeting at Southern High School in Harwood was one of several that will take place over the next four months as county officials get public input on the most recent revision of a long-term land-use plan that is updated about once a decade.

The 1997 version of the county's General Development Plan calls for about 60 percent of the county's 416 square miles to remain rural and attempts to guide most construction into what it calls "primary growth areas."

Some residents of the southern part of the county are angry because among the growth areas are the communities of Shady Side, Deale and Edgewater on the Chesapeake Bay.

County officials argue that little will change for those areas. For more than 30 years, the county has marked these areas for growth although it did not label them "primary growth areas." A decade ago they were called "planned growth areas."

If anything, the county has become more aggressive in attempting to control growth since the drafting of its first land-use plan in 1966, Richard Josephson, chief of land use and facilities planning for the county, said.

In 1966, the county targeted about 86 percent of its land for growth by planning to extend sewer and water lines. In 1977, the county reduced this to about 58 percent of its land. In 1986, the amount was cut back to about 50 percent. And in this year's

version of the long-range plan, the amount is reduced to about 40 percent.

The amount of land set aside for rural use in the south county is about the same as in this year's version of the plan -- about 85 percent -- as in the 1986 version, Josephson said.

Fear new label

But many residents of the "primary growth areas" in the south county said last night that they fear the new "primary growth" label will encourage so much construction that their roads will be clogged, their schools will become crowded, and the Chesapeake Bay will become more polluted.

Some complained about another element of the proposed revision: a proposal that would allow developers for the first time to swap development rights in areas designated for rural use for development rights in areas designated for growth.

Residents who live along the Chesapeake Bay said they worried this would save the inland farmland but further crowd the waterfront communities targeted for "primary growth."

"Why can't the county consider no growth as a goal?" demanded Graydon Ripley, a 56-year-old lawyer from the south county.

Josephson replied: "If we told the people who live in the county to stop having children then perhaps we could have no growth as a goal. But the fact is, we're going to have some amount of additional people, and we are trying to determine where these people should live."

Several meetings held

"This plan would seem to imply a massive change in our community, from a rural community to basically residential subdivisions. . Why didn't the public have more input?" demanded Tom Abercrombie, 67, who lives in Shady Side.

Josephson replied that the county has already had several public meetings at which the land-use plan was discussed.

He said there would be no substantial changes in the south county.

"All you have to do is look at the county [plan] and the one 10 years ago, and you will see that massive changes are not being proposed," Josephson said. "The southern county is still about 85 percent rural. And that's not going to change at all."

Michael Shay, a 47-year-old construction worker, was skeptical, saying, "There are a lot of people who are very angry that they have targeted our area for growth.

"We're talking about suburban sprawl along the shoreline, and that's completely detrimental to the concept of saving the Chesapeake Bay," Shay said.

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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