Smart Growth gets regional focus

Experts call strategy of linking areas rational and obvious

May 08, 1999|By Kirsten Scharnberg | Kirsten Scharnberg,SUN STAFF

State, county and private-sector development experts gathered in Annapolis yesterday to discuss a Smart Growth initiative that one speaker described as "so obvious we'd be idiots not to try it."

The initiative is region-based planning, and the goal is to get Annapolis and Anne Arundel County to work cooperatively to deal with the effects of urban sprawl and rapid development in Anne Arundel County.

"Looking at the large picture, working together, is a good idea," said Alton J. Scavo, a senior vice president of Rouse Co. "In fact, looking at the larger picture is so rational and makes so much sense, how could you not try it?"

More than 100 participants at the conference at Maryland Hall had three key goals: to examine successful regional planning initiatives in other states and counties, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Howard County; to identify the ways Anne Arundel County would benefit from regional planning; and to plot the course for beginning regional planning in the county.

The basic idea of the regional plan, Scavo said, is to let one agency know what another is doing when planning for development. If smaller municipalities deal with growth in a way that is completely opposite of the way the county deals with growth, no one will benefit, he said.

"It's like a good marriage," Scavo said. "It should be structured so that the partnership benefits all participants."

Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who announced plans for the conference last month, pledged their support for working toward a collaborative solution to continuing growth problems.

Conference participants were urged to explore a number of questions, including what aspects of the county's zoning laws are not working, what government entities would report to whom, how the checks and balances of such collaborative relationships would be structured, whether local or regional values regarding growth would prevail and how the "region" would be defined.

"Does a region include Baltimore or all the way to Harford County? What about Washington? Or the whole I-95 corridor up to New Jersey?" asked Robert H. Waldman, chairman of the Annapolis Planning Commission. "That will be something to be figured out."

Jonathan Barnett, an architect, planner and the director of the graduate program in urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, said regional planning will be the wave of the future.

"What we have is a dysfunctional situation where cities are emptying out," he said. "As a result, far-out urban areas are developing faster and faster, and having to deal with growth issues."

At the end of the conference, Florence Beck Kurdle, former Anne Arundel planning and zoning officer, asked for concrete suggestions for taking the first steps in regional planning. The panel of experts suggested focusing on county transportation issues and incorporating mixed-income housing in all developments.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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