Ehrlich's Smart Growth plan praised by national advocate

Ideas change emphasis of Glendening's policies

October 11, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s revisions to the state's strategy for controlling sprawl are "a step in the right direction," according to a leading national advocate of Smart Growth policies.

Gerrit Knaap, director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, said yesterday that the executive order Ehrlich signed the day before changes the emphasis of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's signature program while retaining its core concepts.

"Potentially, it's positive. It depends on how it shakes out," Knaap said. "I don't see anything that makes me cringe or that is going backwards."

Knaap's praise of the plan came as some leading Maryland environmentalists, who feel they have been left in the dark about the changes in recent months, voiced concerns that there might be unpleasant surprises in the details.

Chief among their concerns was that Ehrlich was signaling a more permissive approach toward using state money for projects outside the "priority funding areas" - urban centers and areas set aside by the counties for growth - set up under Glendening's landmark 1997 Smart Growth legislation.

"It could mean the priority funding areas don't have the teeth they once had," said Theresa Pierno, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

State Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott, Ehrlich's point person on Smart Growth, denied that the state would allow local officials to use state resources to foster sprawl.

"There is no backing off the commitments to PFAs. It certainly won't be on my watch," Scott said.

The planning secretary said that where Glendening's Smart Growth program stressed conserving land outside areas targeted for growth, Ehrlich would emphasize development in established communities. That was also a goal of the Glendening program, but it appeared to play a secondary role to conserving open space.

Knaap - whose center is based at the University of Maryland, College Park -said he is also encouraged that Ehrlich's plan called for a role for the Smart Growth sub-Cabinet created by his predecessor. The group consists of the heads of the various agencies that deal with land-use issues.

Knaap said he's especially pleased with Ehrlich's emphasis on creating an inventory of land available for development.

"Land-use planning is an extremely important element in Smart Growth," Knapp said. He added that planning was a weak spot in Glendening's program.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the antisprawl group 1,000 Friends of Maryland, questioned some aspects of Ehrlich's plan but endorse the "land bank" concept.

She expressed concern that although environmentalists played a role in drafting recommendations for the land inventory in the winter, they had not been consulted since then.

Scott said the absence of environmental leaders at Ehrlich's Thursday night news conference was probably her fault. She said she hopes to set up a meeting to brief them next week.

Ehrlich's changes to Smart Growth appear to benefit older working-class communities such as his hometown of Arbutus. Ehrlich has ordered that the state's policies for land preservation be rewritten to reflect his priorities. Scott said yesterday that the administration expects to release them soon.

The changes have environmentalists, who backed Glendening's approach, nervous. "There has to be some open-space component" to Smart Growth, Schmidt-Perkins said.

Environmental groups appeared less concerned about Ehrlich's apparent effort to retire the name Smart Growth in favor of Priority Places Strategy.

"The name doesn't matter as much as actually achieving our goals," Pierno said.

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