Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 24, 2004

Plan for Rt. 32 will only extend sprawl, gridlock

The pro-development allies of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the perpetually enraged Comptroller William Donald Schaefer often tell us that government has no business deciding where people live. Yet these conservative stalwarts did just that when, acting as members the state Board of Public Works, they decided to override existing Smart Growth regulations to commit state funds, and seek federal dollars, to begin the process of widening Route 32 between Clarksville and Interstate 70 ("Rt. 32 widening called killer of Smart Growth," July 22).

Why should those of us living in the cities and towns of the Baltimore-Washington corridor care about a highway linking the western fringe of our area to the bedroom communities of Central Maryland?

Because Maryland's Smart Growth policies are intended to ensure that the developers who make tidy profits by permanently altering the landscape are not subsidized by the state at the expense of existing communities that need to maintain schools, roads, safe water supplies, police protection and other vital services we have already put into place.

The decision to widen Route 32 also matters to residents of western Howard County, Frederick County and Carroll County who are content with the open space and quality of life where they live.

The plan to increase highway capacity for cars and SUVs commuting from these relatively rural areas into Baltimore and Washington will undoubtedly encourage many more people to move into housing tracts in the erstwhile farms and forests surrounding existing Central Maryland communities.

The repudiation of Smart Growth will encourage more land-intensive, sprawling, ex-urban development by allowing developers and their marketers to tout the shortening of commute times from their far-flung developments to employment centers in the Baltimore and Washington areas.

Of course these shortened commutes will prove fleeting, as the newcomers crowding out the open space in Central Maryland will quickly clog the new lanes that encouraged their decision to live far from their places of employment.

The heavy hand of the state's executive branch has picked a winner, and that winner is not us, but rather those who profit from sprawl.

Joseph Kershner

Baltimore

Smart Growth aided cites and towns

A great disservice is done when state Planning Secretary Audrey E. Scott asserts that the previous administration only focused on saving open space ("State launches program to help revitalize areas," July 15). This ignores all the efforts over many years, by countless citizens and elected officials, to develop a well-balanced Smart Growth program.

Indeed, to act as if the idea of redevelopment and revitalization somehow escaped the notice of the Glendening administration is to rewrite history and distort the facts.

The very heart of the nationally recognized Smart Growth program put in place in 1997 was to direct state resources primarily toward existing cities and towns. And a whole host of innovative programs were developed to provide incentives for revitalization.

These included historic preservation tax credits, job creation credits, brownfield redevelopment plans, business loans and grants for small retail stores, the Community Legacy program for community revitalization and a variety of housing assistance programs.

Revitalization -- in Baltimore, North Beach, Mount Rainier, Westminster, Frostburg, Easton, Frederick and scores of other communities large and small -- was a central focus of Smart Growth for the previous administration.

The Glendening administration was also very successful in protecting thousands of acres of farmland and natural resource land from development. This was one of the most aggressive land preservation efforts in the nation. And, unfortunately, this vital effort has all but evaporated under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

So while we welcome Mr. Ehrlich's Priority Places strategy as another piece of an ongoing effort to rebuild existing communities, we must not ignore the work that came before.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

Gambling wrong way to support the state

It is growing ever more apparent the states are buying into an inane argument that state-sponsored gambling is a cure for fiscal woes -- as if that is the only remedy.

But gambling is a vice. It is not an industry. The jobs created by gambling are not high-paying. Gambling is a quick fix.

There are now 12 million pathological gamblers in the United States. When states introduce forms of gambling such as slot machines and casinos, this does not impact tourism as much as create new gamblers in the immediate area of such establishments.

Casinos prey on the people who can least afford to lose the money. The majority of these sad souls become even more desperate, and a vicious cycle of family problems, substance abuse and crime ensues from gambling.

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