Crying 'smart growth,' governor is dumb as a fox

Comment

August 02, 1998|By Mike Burns

IT'S INSPIRING to see such an honest display of nonpolitical decision-making as that of the governor's announcement last week that he will keep the Maryland State Police crime laboratory in Baltimore County.

The rationale, said Parris N. Glendening, is strictly a matter of adhering to his own Smart Growth program, as his planning staff had publicly explained months ago. Prevent suburban sprawl, rebuild on developed ground, keep every state facility inside the two Beltways and inside city lines.

So there was nothing remotely political in his message to a bunch of Baltimore County businessmen consuming coffee and bagels there in Pikesville, within the shadow of the MSP lab.

The die had been cast, the fix was in, nearly two years ago, when the professor came up with his measles-spotted maps of where "smart" growth could occur (with essential state infrastructure and money). So despite the bragging by Baltimore County Democrats, and the forced expressions of surprise, the decision had already been made.

Never in the running

Carroll County was never in the running for the site in this election year.

Oh, the state police planners favored putting it on the former grounds of Springfield Hospital Center by Sykesville. The state is building a police and corrections officer training center there, with driving courses and a firearms range, dormitories and classrooms. A new crime lab would have fit nicely into the 800-acre tract, which was given back to the state by the mental hospital for other use. (Reuse of developed land? Doesn't that sound a lot like . . .?)

The $40 million police complex at Springfield would replace the overcrowded training academy at the Pikesville headquarters of the state police. As many as 500 officers a day could be trained at the new complex, the governor's staff gushed when Mr. Glendening visited Springfield in October 1996.

"It clearly makes sense from our perspective to utilize existing buildings and existing structures rather than construct new buildings and manufacture new infrastructure," gubernatorial press secretary Ray Feldmann said of the Springfield complex. The new police training facility reflected Mr. Glendening's commitment to promote growth close to cities, the official added.

How's that again?

Hair-splitting distinctions

The governor last week attempted an explanation of his hair-splitting distinction as to where parts of the state police should be located. Locating a firing range and a driving course way out in Sykesville is smart; locating a central crime lab on that property -- despite its established infrastructure and buildings -- would not be smart, he said.

Mr. Glendening is surely aware of the town of Sykesville, a long established municipality whose borders are half-ringed by state lands. One such state parcel of land is known as the Warfield complex of Springfield Hospital Center.

PTC As with the surplus land it turned over for the police training center, the shrinking state hospital recently gave up its 138 acres of the Warfield complex for other state use. After much analysis and discussion, the state decided to turn over that land and roads and buildings to Sykesville for redevelopment -- and for annexation. A guy named Glendening was one of three persons on the state Board of Public Works that agreed to that devolution of state property.

So the sprawling police academy (and remaining active hospital facilities) will end up as close neighbors of expanded Sykesville. Only that incorporated Carroll County town is not as smart as the sprawling suburb of Pikesville, according to the governor's high principles.

(Sykesville and the Warfield complex of Springfield are said to be within the official definition of Smart Growth, for state projects and assistance. The Martin Gross section of the Springfield facility, where the state police training center is located, apparently does not meet the definition, especially when compared to Pikesville.)

David B. Mitchell, superintendent of state police, now says he wants a crime lab in the Pikesville headquarters or nearby. He, unsurprisingly, backs his boss.

Baltimore County did nothing

It's been known for some time that the overcrowded crime lab in Pikesville needed new quarters. But Baltimore County did virtually nothing, only aroused to lobby against Carroll County when the idea of a lab at the training center arose. Even now, there's no firm, viable option offered to the state police in Pikesville.

The crime lab at Springfield would have made eminent sense in any other context. And there was no serious proposal to relocate the entire police headquarters there, despite the pandering screed of the Baltimore County pols.

The governor's decision is smart politics, not smart growth. It follows his transparent strategy of wooing Baltimore County and its Democratic power base for help in the fall elections.

Carroll is small and Republican, not a smart place for a Democratic governor seeking re-election.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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