'Pivotal point' for Smart Growth Gubernatorial winner will influence future of year-old set of laws

November 01, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Smart Growth initiative has been good for Gary Van Hoven. Thanks to the state effort to control sprawl and revive older neighborhoods, the state police crime lab will not leave Pikesville, where he owns a bagel shop.

But Dean and Faith Furman, who own the Dutch Corner Restaurant in Manchester, have little praise for the year-old Smart Growth effort. The program, they fear, is likely to block road improvements that would ease traffic congestion that besets their customers.

A year after the package of laws called Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation took effect, the legislation has been praised as a national model for curbing sprawl -- and has been criticized as ineffective and even harmful.

Opponents and supporters of Smart Growth are looking to this week's gubernatorial election to decide the fate of the program.

"Smart Growth is in a pivotal point," said Dru Schmidt Perkins, director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a statewide coalition dedicated to stopping sprawl. "The current governor wants to keep it moving forward. The record of the opponent -- Ellen Sauerbrey -- leads us to feel a little less secure in that."

Opponents of the program hope Sauerbrey would restore state funding to highway projects and rural development programs that have been sidelined.

Glendening was not the first governor to recognize the need to curb sprawl.

In 1992, the state legislature approved a program backed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer aimed at protecting farmland and concentrating development in suitable areas. Glendening went a step further with the Smart Growth initiative, outlining criteria county growth areas must meet to receive state money.

County officials argued they already were managing growth and contended that the state was trying to usurp local planning authority. But the General Assembly approved the priority-funding bill, along with less controversial pieces of Smart Growth legislation that included funds for preserving farmland, mortgage programs to encourage people to live near their jobs and "brownfields" legislation to reclaim old industrial sites.

National land experts lauded Maryland's Smart Growth initiative as the most innovative growth-management measure in 20 years and a trailblazer in an era of new national awareness of suburban sprawl.

'A good first step'

"Smart Growth has exploded across the country," said Michael Pawlukiewicz, the Urban Land Institute's director of environmental policy. "Maryland's program is a good first step. What's good about it is it's nonthreatening. I think you'll see other steps adopting this approach."

While the ultimate effect of the Maryland approach won't be known for years, state officials cite some of the Smart Growth initiative's achievements so far:

Nearly $38 million in Rural Legacy and Open Space funds to preserve 16,000 acres of the best undeveloped land in Maryland.

$77.7 million in the 1999 capital budget devoted to Smart Growth and revitalization programs and projects.

$7 million for highway streetscapes in 30 communities and sidewalk-retrofit projects in 125 locations.

$600,000 to help homebuyers find houses near their work in older communities.

Glendening said recently that the Smart Growth initiative has raised awareness of the costs of sprawl. In a second term, he promised to vigorously enforce Smart Growth principles by withholding state money from projects that contribute to sprawl.

Overall, Sauerbrey has a different philosophical outlook than Glendening on the matter of sprawl. Families, she said, want "a house on an acre of land."

Sauerbrey adds that the Smart Growth policies will accomplish little that wasn't already being done, such as buying open space and acquiring easements on agricultural lands.

In addition, she said, the policies don't address underperforming schools and crime, which prompted families to leave older areas to begin with.

Sauerbrey said that if she wins, however, she would not seek to pass legislation to undo the Glendening initiatives.

Winners and losers

Baltimore County has been one of the big winners in the Smart Growth effort -- garnering millions of dollars for land preservation and community revitalization. The decision to keep the state police crime lab in Pikesville in Baltimore County -- rather than moving it to Sykesville in Carroll County -- was a boost to the older suburb and its businesses.

"We're thrilled the crime lab is staying," said Van Hoven, owner of Joan and Gary's Original Bagel Co. on Reisterstown Road.

But Carroll officials fear they are the losers. They point out that the crime lab was supposed to be part of the redevelopment of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville -- itself a Smart Growth project designed to turn surplus state property into an opportunity for economic development.

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