Ehrlich sets priorities for Smart Growth

Community revitalization, `land bank' among ideas in executive order

October 10, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. put his own stamp on his predecessor's signature program last night as he announced changes to the state's Smart Growth policy that apparently leave its core principles intact.

In an evening news conference inside the Hippodrome renovation project in downtown Baltimore, Ehrlich promised to cooperate more with local governments in land-use decisions than former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Ehrlich characterized the ex-governor's policy as one of "our way or the highway."

Despite Ehrlich's criticism of the former administration, officials said the core idea of the Glendening Smart Growth program - the use of state spending to encourage development in urban centers and planned-growth areas - will not change.

Ehrlich said his new Priority Places Strategy is "a little more than a tweak but certainly not a sea change."

The governor implemented the strategy yesterday by signing an executive order setting several priorities - some of them also pursued by the Glendening administration - for the state Department of Planning to coordinate.

One initiative that is new is the creation of a "land bank" of sites where the state and local governments will welcome development.

Ehrlich said he would launch a pilot program in five jurisdictions - which he did not identify - to formulate the criteria for such properties.

Ehrlich said developers, environmentalists, counties and municipalities will have a role in designing the land bank program, which he called the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

Other priorities stressed by Ehrlich include:

Community revitalization by directing new investment into established communities.

A stepped-up effort to redevelop "brownfields" - former industrial sites with lingering environmental problems - for reuse.

"Transit-oriented developments" that direct growth to areas served by bus and rail.

Streamlining regulations to make it easier to develop planned growth areas.

None of the latter four priorities represents an obvious change from Glendening's policies, said Theresa Pierno, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Pierno said the foundation played no role in formulating the Priority Places Strategy and that she would not be able to comment until she knows details.

One component of Glendening's Smart Growth policy that faces potentially significant changes is the state's aggressive effort to preserve land by acquiring development rights.

The administration is reviewing guidelines for such acquisitions and is expected to announce a new policy in the next few weeks.

Pierno expressed concern about the direction Ehrlich is taking on land preservation.

"What I'm not hearing in here is the other side [of Smart Growth], which is protecting our natural resources," she said.

Many of the changes announced by Ehrlich seem more a matter of atmospherics than basic policy.

Ehrlich's promise to be more respectful of local governments addresses a perception among some elected officials that the Glendening administration was attempting to run roughshod over local governments.

"There was more of an enthusiasm for state pre-emption," Ehrlich said.

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