Visitors take look at small-town life

Vietnamese delegation studies Sykesville for clues to sound planning

June 16, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A 14-member delegation of high-ranking Vietnamese officials finished its two-week tour of the Chesapeake Bay region with a stop in Sykesville, on the shore of the Patapsco River.

With river views in a restaurant housed in a restored train station, the Vietnamese and Mayor Jonathan Herman talked of small-town life, Main Street businesses, schools and concerts in the park.

"This is an important stop for us," Phan Quang Trung, vice minister of planning and investment and the delegation leader, said through an interpreter. "There are many small cities like this one in our countryside and mountains."

On Monday, the delegation visited Baltimore City Hall and got a glimpse of big-city life from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Sykesville "is really small-town U.S.A.," said Denise N. Christiansen, assistant to the director of the U.S. Environmental Training Institute, a private, nonprofit agency that organized the tour. "It serves as a good contrast to Baltimore and the issues raised there."

"These Vietnamese leaders are looking for examples of what the U.S. has done to address sustainable development," said Jay McAllister, the institute's director of business development. "In particular, they want to see the relationship between local, state and federal government. They are trying to see what options they have.

"There is a clear desire to industrialize, to increase wealth, but they know there is a cost to the environment unless they plan," McAllister said.

Ryan C. Davis, citizen monitoring program manager with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, said the delegation was "most interested in how the federal government works with state and local governments. They want to see what works here and what might apply there."

When the delegation asked to see a community upstream from the bay, the alliance suggested Sykesville, for its location and for its reputation for sound environmental planning, said Neil Ridgely, alliance coordinator.

`A progressive town'

"Sykesville is a progressive town that understands its role in the cleanup of the bay," Ridgely said.

Herman discussed environmental issues with the delegation.

"Vietnam is developing rapidly, with some damage to the environment," said Trung. "How can we industrialize without damage?"

Herman stressed the need for strict laws and careful planning that starts on the local level.

"Our town has its own planning commission to review all development plans to makes sure they are sensitive to the environment," he said.

The mayor gave a brief explanation of storm-water management, plugged Smart Growth, the governor's plan to deter sprawl, and added a few local examples of good planning, including the train station, which the town renovated and leased as the anchor for the revitalization of Main Street.

Using existing resources

"By conserving existing resources, we are eligible for tax credits and grants from the governor's office," Herman said.

"We understand solving environmental problems needs the cooperation of government at all levels," Trung said. "Today has been a good opportunity to exchange views on the role of local government. Although our conditions are different, your experience is useful for us."

The visit ended with an exchange of gifts: a silk-screen print for Herman and a key to the town and baseball caps for members of the delegation.

The delegation leaves for home today. The institute expects to stay in touch and possibly send a small delegation to Vietnam.

"This is an astute group. They were not here on a boondoggle," said McAllister. "Clearly, they were interested in what they saw and heard and conscientious about what they want to do."

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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