Studies find no end to sprawl

Smart Growth adherence lacking in Baltimore area

Balto. Co. gets high marks

October 10, 2001|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Despite Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth campaign to slow suburban sprawl, a pair of studies finds that every county but one in the Baltimore region projects significant development outside of designated growth areas.

Unless things change, each of Baltimore's five suburban counties could lose at least 10,000 acres of farms and forests over the next two decades, warn the studies by the Baltimore Regional Partnership and 1000 Friends of Maryland. The groups, representing environmental and civic interests, are to release their studies today.

Carroll County, which has sparred with the state and neighboring jurisdictions over its plans to build around Liberty Reservoir, gets nearly failing grades in adherence to Smart Growth ideas, while only Baltimore County gets high marks for its efforts to preserve rural land.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section yesterday describing suburban development outside of designated growth areas misidentified the executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. She is Terri L. Turner.
The same article misstated the requirements of Baltimore County's agricultural zoning. The requirement is one house per 50 acres.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The reports, based on state and local planning documents, grade each county in areas such as the effectiveness of the controls on designated growth areas, planning new growth, revitalization and agricultural preservation.

"Throughout the debate on Smart Growth, the counties said, `It's our job, it's our job.' So, we said, let's see how you're doing," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends. "They're not doing what they said they would."

Nearly 23 percent of the homes to be built in the region during the next 20 years are projected outside the growth areas, one study finds. Though three-fourths of new housing is projected in growth areas, the development in rural areas would consume 82,000 acres, an area about the size of Baltimore, advocates say.

The resulting sprawl would increase pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, strain local government budgets and reduce money available to improve already developed areas, the groups say.

Under Smart Growth codes first enacted in 1997, the state would help pay for roads, water and sewer lines, schools and other public works only in growth areas designated by local governments.

Although the counties designated growth areas, they apparently failed to match them with development plans, which allowed new housing throughout rural areas, said Dan Pontious, director of the Baltimore Regional Partnership, of which 1000 Friends is a member.

In Carroll County, 58 percent of the residential development expected in the next 20 years will be outside the designated growth areas, while only 9.2 percent of Baltimore County's growth will be outside its designated areas, according to information supplied by the counties.

Baltimore County's strict adherence to its urban-rural demarcation line and agricultural zoning that allows only one house per 20 acres has helped it keep growth out of rural areas, the report found. Carroll zones mostly for residential development, the report card says, making it a bedroom community for long-distance commuters.

"There are some jurisdictions that are doing a great job with Smart Growth and there are some jurisdictions that don't seem to want to get it," said John W. Frece, Glendening's Smart Growth spokesman.

Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell hadn't seen the report yesterday but wondered if the partnership has its facts straight. "Don't we have enough problems in this country without people picking on us for all these little issues?" he asked. "It's pathetic."

Baltimore County officials attributed their high grades to their 1979 master plan, which established the urban/rural demarcation line. "We've been working our tails off and we held the course," Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III said.

Activists warn that county officials are seeking $467 million worth of highway improvements to serve new housing outside designated growth areas. That money could be better spent on mass transit projects in Baltimore and its close-in suburbs, said Terri L. Mullen, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, a partnership member.

People who don't have cars can't get to jobs in the suburbs without reliable public transportation, and "that creates segregation in its truest form," she said.

The report praised Howard County for its efforts to "make neighborhoods affordable to people with a wide ranged of incomes," but sharply criticized its agricultural zoning as the "fatal flaw that prevents the protection of large contiguous areas of farmland."

County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, argued that he and his colleagues "have done a pretty good job" in farmland preservation and that it is unlikely the county would tighten its agricultural zoning.

Anne Arundel and Harford counties both received middling grades.

Anne Arundel leads the region in planning for mixed-use "town centers," but less than 13 percent of a county once known for its truck and tobacco farms remains in agriculture.

Harford has put a lot of effort into revitalization projects, but more than 25 percent of future development will happen outside the growth areas, the report said.

Sun staff writers Jamie Smith Hopkins, Gerard Shields and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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