Destroyers of beauty Scenic preservation: In contest with nature, humans are conquerors, despite safeguards.

November 11, 1997

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY has become the latest Maryland jurisdiction to consider scenic preservation legislation. A total of 32 "scenic and historic roads" would be initially protected by a requirement that landowners maintain trees and meadows along their edges.

"I believe this is something we should add to the county's planning tools so we can preserve something that means a lot to us -- our quality of life," said Diane R. Evans, the chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Council who is spearheading the initiative.

After decades of largely unrestricted sprawl and visual pollution, Americans are becoming more interested in aesthetic safeguards. Some cities, including Baltimore, have laws against certain kinds of advertising signage. Many states wage war against roadside billboards; Ohio has a "Billboard Hall of Shame."

Two federal programs -- All American Roads and National Scenic Byways -- have started in recent years. Washington has invested more than $62 million in projects that range from combining a number of panoramic local roads into the Thomas Jefferson Parkway in Charlottesville, Va., to bringing the 1840s Augusta Canal back to life in Georgia. The recently expired highway-funding legislation -- the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act -- also had as a goal improving the aesthetics of transportation corridors.

Despite these efforts, construction projects, particularly in the suburbs, are gobbling up land and threatening vistas of natural beauty.

The trickiest preservation projects often are the smallest ones -- a stretch of a winding road that hasn't much changed from Colonial times. There are plenty of them in Maryland.

College Avenue, near Ellicott City, and Whitehall Cove Road, outside Annapolis, are two such examples. They have been in the news recently because new subdivisions threaten to change their character. "They are throwing a scenic road to the wolves," fumed one critic.

Local legislative bodies may pass laws that require property owners to create buffers of trees and meadows. But ultimately the question is about property rights. Without buying the land for preservation, local governments seldom are in a position to dictate to an owner how a property should be used.

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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