Glendening pursues Smart Growth joke

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January 30, 2000|By Mike Burns

IS Parris learning?

Doubtful, but at least Gov. Parris N. Glendening has finally returned to a Sykesville location for the long-planned statewide police public safety training center.

In his embarrassing reversal, the governor employed the ultimate sophistry. Springfield state hospital land that will be annexed by the town of Sykesville is Smart Growth; already developed Springfield state hospital land located a few hundred yards away is not.

One plot is (or is to be) in an established community that is approved for sprawl-curbing development by Mr. Glendening's Smart Growth program.

The other -- with its buildings, roads, wells and half the center already built -- is offensive to his sprawl-control sensibilities.

The decision to build the training center's academic/administration buildings on hospital land that will be given to Sykesville will help the town's development of the property.

But it also casts an embarrassing shadow on that town's bruited plans for attracting tax-paying economic development to the 138-acre Warfield complex.

Despite rosy predictions of town leaders, the campus of old hospital cottages and structures has had only two nibbles -- both from nonprofit, non-taxpaying colleges. The addition of the state training center there further highlights the limits to private enterprise growth at Warfield.

Mayor Jonathan Herman insists that most infrastructure development costs will be paid by tenants. In this case, the obligation will be shifted to state taxpayers.

The governor's decision also underlines the resolution of state Treasurer Richard Dixon and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer to keep the entire center on the state property by Sykesville. As a majority on the state Board of Public Works, the two had vowed to oppose any expenditure for the center at another location.

More than a petulant power play by Messrs. Schaefer and Dixon, they recognized the Glendening Smart Growth scheme as a political sham, driven by whim.

The training center, planned for 720 acres of the hospital's Gross complex, was praised by Mr. Glendening as an example of Smart Growth as ground was broken on the center in 1996.

After committing $20 million to the first sections of the center, the governor made a turnabout and said the classroom building should be located inside the Beltway. He had no practical alternative site in mind -- only a crumbling public housing complex in Baltimore and another state hospital campus. His aim appeared to be to bestow a facility on the inner urban community that strongly backed him in the 1998 election.

Let's be clear. A training center that could draw some 500 officers in a day is an added traffic burden to existing roads no matter where it is placed. But with the original plan for a dormitory and cafeteria, there would be only a modest increase in traffic in and out of the center on any given day.

Earlier, Mr. Glendening and public safety officials emphasized that the $50 million self-contained state facility would not have a significant economic impact on the local community. Therefore, Mr. Glendening said, the transfer of the academic facilities out of Sykesville represented no great local economic loss.

Yet last week the governor was proclaiming that his latest site selection "strongly encourages new private development to locate in Warfield." How? By forcing state taxpayers to foot the bill for all manner of infrastructure there?

Let's not forget the added costs that Governor Smart Growth has imposed on the project with his delay and the extra cost of siting the classroom building separate from the already completed driver training and firearms range. That's not smart by any measure.

In this latest twist, Sykesville acts as the middle man to extricate Mr. Glendening's foot from his mouth. Truth is, Mr. Glendening has been making up Smart Growth as he goes along, despite a pile of color-coded maps in the state planning office that aim to justify his decisions of permitted and unpermitted growth.

The governor wanted to grandstand last year when he called a halt to several major state projects, including the remainder of the training center. Instead of saying they cost too much, or provided too little cost-benefit, Mr. Glendening sanctimoniously declared them to be promoters of sprawl development.

Yes, the Gross site and the Warfield site are not exactly the same in topography and condition of existing structures. Renovating the spacious Hubner Building at Warfield to house the classrooms and administration, instead of rehabbing several old buildings at Martin Gross, may be cheaper.

But the same main access roads, Routes 32 and 26, will be used for both sites, with no traffic reduction.

Private sprawl remains unlikely around either site, as the state controls the huge Springfield Hospital Center property (aside from Warfield).

Indeed, if Mr. Glendening was serious about sprawl containment, he might have punished (not rewarded) the town of Sykesville for last year rezoning 32 acres of unimproved land on its eastern edge for 155 new homes that will require building roads and other facilities.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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