Smart Growth opinion sought

Lawmakers challenge governor's decision to drop road projects

February 05, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare and Sheridan Lyons | Mary Gail Hare and Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Two Carroll delegates have asked the state attorney general to decide whether the governor can use Smart Growth legislation to eliminate long-standing projects, such as the recently scrapped Westminster and Manchester bypasses.

Dels. Joseph M. Getty and Donald B. Elliott also asked whether a jurisdiction can appeal the governor's decision on such issues to the state Board of Public Works. The panel's three members are the governor, treasurer and comptroller.

The response could have far-reaching ramifications, said Getty, a Manchester Republican who requested the opinion along with Elliott, who represents Carroll and Frederick counties.

"The attorney general will use our response as guidance as to what can and cannot take place according to Smart Growth," Getty said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening removed the two bypasses from the state's Comprehensive Transportation Plan, saying both roads would contribute to sprawl, the antithesis of the goals of his 1997 Smart Growth law. The legislation was enacted to provide funding for development in existing communities.

The governor also scrapped plans to complete a $53 million police training center on state-owned land in Sykesville, again citing Smart Growth.

"We are trying every avenue we can to address these issues," Elliott said yesterday. "We truly are working in every direction to try and get these projects back on track. I think we have a lot of support in this, too."

In their letter to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. Jan. 27, the delegates said the Smart Growth law exempted the bypasses, planned for Route 140 in Westminster and Route 30 in Manchester.

"When the General Assembly considered Smart Growth, we put in exceptions for projects already in the pipeline," Getty said yesterday.

Any expenditure before October 1998 would exempt a project, according to the legislation.

More than $2.6 million had been spent on the Westminster road before 1996. Planning money has been spent on the Manchester project.

"The legislation is clear for any projects funded," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation. "The General Assembly understands that projects in the pipeline are not subject to Smart Growth criteria."

"If the attorney general sets up an appeals process, certainly we would go that route," said Carmen Amedori, a Westminster delegate.

The letter asks for an opinion on whether projects that predate the legislation can be completed.

"When the `Smart Growth' legislation was passed, the Maryland General Assembly was extremely concerned that it not affect major projects already in the pipeline nor severely impact the localities anticipating such projects," the delegates wrote.

They asked: "Does this grandfathering language provide an exception from Smart Growth for either of these Carroll County road projects?"

Getty expects an answer fairly quickly, but he is not optimistic it will favor Carroll County.

"The governor can put pressure on the attorney general to come out with an opinion more favorably disposed to his position than to ours," Getty said.

The gist of the opinion, which will be advisory and not binding, could be revealed Tuesday during an Environmental Matters Committee hearing. The state Department of Transportation will brief committee members, who include Elliott, about Smart Growth.

"The attorney general probably won't have an opinion done by the hearing, but it should be pretty far along," said Getty. "We may get our answer at the hearing, before it is put into writing."

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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