Md. ranks first in open-space protection in Sierra Club report on sprawl control

But state drops to 12th in transportation planning

October 05, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Maryland's growth-control efforts received high marks yesterday from the Sierra Club, which ranked it first among the 50 states in protecting open spaces and third in two other categories -- land-use planning and community revitalization.

The state slipped to 12th in transportation planning, mostly for building roads rather than maintaining existing roads and not spending more on public transit. The rankings were part of the environmental advocacy group's second-annual report on controlling sprawl.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, whose Smart Growth initiative has been hailed as a national model, said he was "excited to lead the nation in controlling sprawl.

"To be judged No. 1 in the nation by a group that can be as critical as the Sierra Club is quite an accomplishment," he said. "This is good news for us and even greater news for the next generation."

The lower ranking in transportation planning did not appear to bother him.

"I agree with them," he said. "We have to turn away from adding more lanes to beltways and to better our mass transit. But to be No. 12 certainly is not something to be ashamed of."

Glendening said he plans to include in the budget he will present to the General Assembly in January "significant money" to improve existing roads and to add to mass transit service in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.

Mary P. Marsh, legislative chairwoman of Sierra Club's Maryland chapter, was less enthusiastic. "It's like getting a B on your midterm," she said. "We need to go further."

The club rated each state by measuring progress in open-space protection, land-use planning, transportation planning and community revitalization. It praised states for innovative programs, such as Maryland's Rural Legacy, and criticized others that either have no programs or aren't enforcing existing laws.

Florida and Georgia have had landmark growth-management laws in place for at least a decade, but neither state enforces the laws, allowing sprawling suburbs to stretch for miles around Tampa-St. Petersburg and Atlanta, the report noted.

Only 11 states have comprehensive statewide growth-management plans, and 20 states have agricultural conservation easement programs. Twenty-one states spent more than half their federal transportation money on new roads last year instead of maintaining existing roads.

Generally, the lower-ranking states have weak governments with legislatures heavily influenced by builders and developers and little citizen involvement, said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

The states with high rankings show "that we can manage suburban sprawl by adopting and implementing smart-growth solutions," he said.

Maryland has been "a successful laboratory in demonstrating an approach to urban sprawl," said Larry Bohlen, co-chair of the Sierra Club's "Challenge to Sprawl" campaign.

The state has protected 189,000 acres since 1969 through Program Open Space. The largest chunk of that was the purchase this year of 58,000 acres of environmentally sensitive forest on the Eastern Shore.

Under the Rural Legacy program, Maryland has earmarked $140 million over the next five years to buy farmland threatened by development. The state also has purchased easements on 117,000 acres to protect them from development.

Oregon was rated first in land- use planning for its urban-growth boundaries, which allow communities to decide where development stops and open space begins.

Rhode Island ranked first in transportation planning for expanding rail, ferry and bus systems, despite federal funding cuts, and building 50 miles of bike paths.

Vermont ranked first in community revitalization for its programs to promote and preserve downtown areas and for a trust fund that has helped 10,000 people find affordable housing since 1987.

Pub Date: 10/05/99

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