Potomac divide

Different philosophies: Maryland and Virginia officials clash more frequently over land-use issues.

February 24, 2000

VIRGINIA and Maryland differ in more ways than their bumper stickers -- "Virginia is for lovers" vs. "Maryland is for crabs." They're miles apart on issues affecting use of land and water resources.

The divide is most apparent in the philosophies of the two governors. Maryland's Parris N. Glendening is a champion of Smart Growth, where the impact of development decisions is viewed in a broader, quality-of-life context.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, by contrast, is a believer in minimal government intrusion, especially on land-use decisions. He isn't popular with environmental groups.

So it's not surprising the two states are locked in a dispute over pumping water from the Potomac River (owned by Maryland) that could spur even more development in already crowded Northern Virginia.

Virginia leaders also seek an outer beltway and bridge crossing that would open vast stretches of Montgomery and Frederick counties to development. Mr. Glendening and Montgomery officials adamantly oppose these plans.

The two states were at odds over conservation measures during last year's drought. Mr. Glendening imposed mandatory water curbs, while Virginia stopped at voluntary water-saving efforts.

Protection of the Chesapeake Bay is another area where Virginia officials have been reluctant to take action compared with Maryland's government activism.

The situation is not one-sided, though. Many Virginia groups support land-use controls. For instance, they have fought development of the National Harbor complex in Prince George's County for fear of harming the Potomac.

But overall, there's more alarm in Maryland about the consequences of sprawl. Local and state officials here are more focused on long-range land-use planning.

There needs to be more discussion with Virginia. Increasingly, the two populous regions -- Northern Virgin and the northern Washington suburbs -- are tied together. Together they must create a vision that values green space, clean water and thoughtful development on both sides of the river.

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