Sprawl moves far west

May 04, 2006

Maryland's latest poster child for sprawl is called Terrapin Run, and its fate is now before an Allegany County Circuit Court judge - a review that we hope that it does not survive. The project is a natural but terrible product of cheap mountain land and the growing willingness of Washington-area workers to commute as far as 100 miles away in their desperate search for more-affordable housing.

Right next to Green Ridge State Forest 50 miles west of Hagerstown along Interstate 68, Terrapin Run ultimately would put 4,300 homes and a shopping plaza on 900 acres of land originally zoned for agriculture and conservation. There are questions about the tract's water and septic capacities. It is 30 miles to the nearest middle or high school. It would send thousands of additional cars each day onto a stretch of U.S. 40 that's been designated one of seven "last-chance scenic places" in Maryland. And it received approval as an exemption to Allegany's land-use restrictions by a 2-1 vote of the county's Board of Zoning Appeals.

We do not oppose growth, but the costs of this sort of sprawl - economic, social and environmental - are much too high. It strains limited government resources, potentially pollutes public lands, creates more traffic and leaves behind much closer-in communities in need of redevelopment. We strongly suspect that Allegany's two largest towns, Cumberland and Frostburg, abound with redevelopment opportunities. In that same vein, we welcome news that national suburban developer Pulte Homes may build 400 to 700 housing units along Baltimore's formerly industrial Westport waterfront - only, say, an hour's commute by train from Washington.

Ironically, growth controls in many of Maryland's developed areas - in tandem with the cost of new infrastructure to support higher-density redevelopment - are among the forces pushing such projects as Terrapin Run so far out, according to a new study by the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education. We understand that this is a tricky political proposition; witness the rejection by Mount Airy voters this week of town plans to annex an adjacent part of Carroll County to accommodate a new development. There's little doubt that the expense of providing infrastructure to properly accommodate higher densities within or near developed areas is great. But the overall costs cannot match the toll from a growth pattern represented by the likes of Terrapin Run.

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