County growth

September 14, 2006

From Columbia and Annapolis to Westminster and Bel Air, the pace of development will likely dominate the political debate in Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford counties as a prelude to the general election. Growth - and sprawl - defined many primary races in the Baltimore metropolitan region, and it should remain the central issue as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of local governments. The issue matters because it is at the heart of so many local problems: school overcrowding, road congestion, transportation needs and the environmental impact of increased suburbanization.

New development has been viewed by the tax-averse as the way to raise revenue for improved services. That's why voters should insist that candidates explain their stands on managing growth to protect a quality of life they have come to enjoy.

In Howard and Harford, divisive battles ensued this year over attempts to redefine and manage growth by the counties. Incumbent Harford County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican, vetoed a comprehensive rezoning bill that he found problematic. Count on Mr. Craig's Democratic opponent, Ann C. Helton, to hammer away at his campaign's reliance on developers' contributions.

The Howard County executive candidates, Democrat Ken Ulman and Republican Christopher J. Merdon, took opposite stands on the controversial Comp Lite proposal. Mr. Merdon voted against the measure because, he said, "it unnecessarily increased density." Stephen Wallis, an independent candidate, has criticized the proposal as a "back-door" approach to undermine the zoning process.

Candidates for Anne Arundel County executive may face off over a new environmental impact fee that would help improve erosion problems in older communities. But Democrat George F. Johnson and Republican John R. Leopold should share their plans on how best to capitalize on - and mitigate - the expected arrival of thousands of new federal workers.

Their colleagues in Harford and Howard would be wise to discuss the same, because the impact of the Base Realignment and Closure relocations to the metropolitan area will be felt for decades to come.

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