THE STATE'S move to cut off farm preservation funding for Carroll County because of a controversial local zoning law sets a serious precedent.
It expands the range of state funding powers that can be used to influence local government decisions on zoning and development.
Under the 1997 Smart Growth laws, the state's primary threat to curb local sprawl development had been denial of funds for infrastructure projects, such as roads, water and sewer, and schools.
But the state planning department has told Carroll authorities to repeal the new zoning law or lose farmland preservation money. The amount at stake is not great, but it hits directly at Carroll's cherished program of saving agricultural land by buying easements.
The Carroll law promotes higher-density, clustered development, ostensibly a Smart Growth goal. But it also encourages development of farmland, and more housing, by loosening rules on the conversion of agricultural properties. Thousands of building lots could be created in farming areas.
Farmers, county planning officials, municipal leaders and the Chamber of Commerce are among the critics of the law.
In a curious twist of county policy, Commissioner Robin Frazier said the purpose was not just to preserve farmland but to preserve farmers, by facilitating conversion of their property for development.
Carroll commissioners and the governor have been at odds over development issues in recent years. That made it easier for the state to challenge this zoning law.
The broader message for all counties is that this administration will use its full powers to promote Smart Growth policies. Intervention won't be confined to a specific project or property, but will cover zoning laws in general.
The Carroll law is a bad one, duplicitously conceived and deserving of rebuke. But all counties will tread more cautiously in their zoning decisions as a result.