Allies for Smart Growth

Believers: Builders and developers have embraced the governor's plan to control sprawl and will ask the General Assembly for a few refinements.

January 07, 2001|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

Smart Growth.

For the past four years, those two words uttered by Gov. Parris N. Glendening have been a rallying cry for some, a menace to others.

With the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Revitalization Act of 1997, the governor laid the cornerstone of his administration. It would be a tough initiative that would direct state funds to designated growth areas, cities and towns, in hopes of renewing those areas while blunting suburban sprawl.

The public perceived builders and developers as the villains - the gobblers of farmland, the desecrators of green space. Smart Growth put developers on notice - as well as on the defensive.

"One of the original criticisms we had was that we were purposely left out of the loop," John E. Kortecamp, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said of the 1997 legislation.

Now, as the General Assembly gets ready to open its 2001 session, the HBAM and the Maryland State Builders Association are ready to put themselves back into the loop by introducing their own Smart Growth legislation that would more clearly define where and how growth will occur in the state.

But to the dismay of some, the building industry has come to Annapolis to embrace Smart Growth, not to bury it.

"The first time I heard Smart Growth, I thought it was no growth. But I've come to realize that I was wrong," said Kevin T. Carney, president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. "The private sector is traditionally wary of governmental action, and once [Smart Growth] is recognized [as] the right way to go, I think this is the proper use of government.

"We are not trying to change anything. This is tweaking. This is not revolutionary. This is evolutionary."

According to Carney, the gist of the legislation, in its final draft stages and still awaiting a sponsor, will be to:

Determine a consistent approach for identifying the number of lots available, while also considering the needs for affordable housing and market choices;

Provide for a consistent, accurate calculation of anticipated growth in each jurisdiction in Maryland;

Establish a plan that includes protection of the lots in inventory and identification of new lots needed for growth.

"The governor has set the bar, he has been the leader. He has taken the initiative," Carney said. "It is now time for private industry to do their share of taking leadership and initiative within the roles they fill in Smart Growth."

To get consensus for their legislation, the building associations said they have had preliminary talks with legislative aides in the offices of the governor as well as House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Allegany County, the Maryland Department of Planning and environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1000 Friends of Maryland.

"We understand that this bill has a lot of meat right now, and we're sitting down ... saying how feasible is this in this legislative session," said Kathleen McHugh of the Maryland State Builders Association.

"These are some real new ideas. And we are asking these guys to do a lot of different things and to really move closer to true Smart Growth the way we see it needing to be. We are assessing how much of a chunk we want to bite off. I think we have a great chance to start an important dialogue this session," she added.

Ronald Young, deputy director for the state planning office, said he noticed "a very different attitude" coming from the trade organizations when they met in November.

"Really, the governor said from the beginning that nobody has to lose from this," he said. "It was just an attitude change [on the builders' part], and I think they saw some signs from the governor that nobody is really out to get them or shut them down, it's a way to make it work.

"I also think people recognize that it is better to be at the table and help mold [Smart Growth] so that it does work for you than to stand outside and look in. So, we were very pleased."

Carney, the homebuilders president, laid the groundwork for the legislation by drawing on state statistics that show Maryland and the Baltimore metropolitan area will have significant population growth in the next two decades. Using Department of Planning statistics, Carney said Maryland's population will increase by 842,906 residents, a 16 percent increase, over the next 20 years. Of that number, 194,000 will settle in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

"Each jurisdiction within the state of Maryland needs to take its share of growth," Carney said. He added that there has to be a "balanced approach between the economic development of the region and also the quality of life as it relates to the preservation of the bay, our clean air, our clean water, farmland and forestry. That is what Smart Growth is. It is growth. It is not no growth.

"What we are trying to do is be part of the dialogue that solves some of the existing problems and, secondly, take the leadership because we are the solution and implementers of Smart Growth."

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