Anti-sprawl group prepares to deliver message statewide 1000 Friends of Maryland modeled on Oregon effort

October 28, 1998|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

With the future of Maryland's new "Smart Growth" policies hinging on next week's elections, a lobbying group opposed to sprawl development is gearing up to make its voice heard in Annapolis and in county seats across the state.

1000 Friends of Maryland is modeled on a similarly named watchdog group in Oregon, which has held the line against sprawl in that state for two decades by enforcing an "urban growth boundary" around Portland.

Like the rehabilitated Baltimore canning plant in which the Maryland group held its first formal meeting Monday night, 1000 Friends is a work in progress. It has fewer than 200 members, compared with more than 5,000 for its established Oregon counterpart.

But the four-year-old Maryland coalition of architects, planners, preservationists and environmentalists is poised to grow and deliver its message that suburbia's spread will be disastrous.

"1000 Friends isn't about stopping growth," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, the group's executive director. "We want to continue growing in Maryland, but in a way that's more cost-effective and environmentally sane."

The group contends that low-density suburban development is costing taxpayers, polluting air and water, gobbling up farms and forestland and draining the life out of cities and small towns.

Gathering in the unfinished makeover of the American Can complex in Canton, the group heard from Henry Richmond, co-founder of 1000 Friends of Oregon and a leading national anti-sprawl spokesman.

Richmond told the group that Maryland is in the forefront of the movement.

"The Maryland program is the nation's leader in attacking that first component of what causes sprawl: government funding of infrastructure," he said. The new Smart Growth law, sponsored by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, directs state funds for highways, sewers and other infrastructure to existing communities.

Formed by a handful of planners and preservationists, 1000 Friends had been a small, loosely organized group that geared up last year to support Smart Growth legislation. This year, with $140,000 in grants from four local foundations, the group has hired two staff members and set up an office.

"We have healthy lifestyles here in Maryland, and we want to keep it that way," said Karen Lewand, the group's vice president, director of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The president is William Eichbaum, vice president of the World Wildlife Fund and a former state environmental regulator.

Directed by Schmidt-Perkins, a veteran environmental lobbyist and former leader of Clean Water Action, the anti-sprawl group has drafted a one-page platform advocating neighborhood conservation, protection of open space and increased public transit.

Of more than 300 General Assembly candidates asked to signify their support, 26 have done so, including 18 incumbents.

Schmidt-Perkins said the platform was not intended to influence next week's elections, though growth is an issue in half of the state's counties. Rather, the document was distributed to counter political pressure from highway contractors and others with a vested interest in patterns of low-density suburban development.

Though officially nonpolitical, 1000 Friends makes no bones about its support for the legislation Glendening pushed through the General Assembly last year.

Glendening and his Republican challenger, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, were invited to speak to the group. Neither candidate showed up Monday night, but Glendening sent his Smart Growth adviser, John W. Frece, who drew cheers and rousing applause when he said, "If you really support Smart Growth, there's a good opportunity next week to show it."

Sauerbrey has said she would not seek to repeal the Smart Growth laws, including the Rural Legacy program for buying open space, but sees little merit in them. She contends that reduced crime and improved schools, rather than limits on suburban development, would induce more people to live in cities.

"Her record from 16 years in the House of Delegates looks pretty clear," said Schmidt-Perkins. "What I do know is we have in office a person responsible for several pieces of landmark [land use] legislation. It would be a shame to lose that and that momentum we have built up."

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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