BRAC planning group proposed

Panel, to be headed by Lt. Gov. Brown, would fight sprawl

February 16, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said yesterday that the state will not try to speed up suburban development to provide homes for the estimated 28,000 families expected to move to Maryland because of the realignment of federal military bases.

Instead, he said, the state will use a proposed high-level planning group that he will head to chart a course to accommodate the growth without encouraging suburban sprawl.

If the General Assembly approves creation by the O'Malley administration of a sub-Cabinet to coordinate planning for the Base Realignment and Closing process through 2011, the group intends to have a detailed plan worked out by the middle of fall, Brown told members of the House Economic Matters Committee at a hearing yesterday.

The task is daunting, he acknowledged, calling the BRAC jobs "perhaps the largest job growth in [Maryland] since World War II. Each and every one of us are excited about that, no doubt, and we have a healthy dose of concern, too."

Part of the sub-Cabinet's task, he said, will be to "look at development procedures," but he said after the hearing that such a review does not mean more sprawl.

"When we talk about looking at the processes, it's not a question of accelerating growth and development. It's a question of ensuring that we can meet the challenge of BRAC 2005 -- a challenge we have already accepted when we became the beneficiaries of the ... jobs," Brown said.

The state has areas where infrastructure is in place and new development is welcomed, he said. "We will look at ways we can encourage homeownership, encourage those who fill these new jobs to reside in Baltimore City and in other priority funding areas."

The competing demands of welcoming thousands of residents to fill new high-paying jobs while also addressing current residents' resentment of growing traffic congestion and crowded schools were clear at yesterday's committee hearing.

Brown heard no criticism of the O'Malley sub-Cabinet plan at the hearing, and Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat who is the committee chairman, said the panel is expected to vote on the bill today and send it to the House floor next week. An identical bill is under Senate consideration.

Several delegates noted the competing pressures they face.

"There are two major issues of concern to a lot of folks," said Del. David D. Rudolph, a Cecil County Democrat and committee vice chairman. "School construction, and transportation. These individuals [moving to Maryland] want to go to quality schools and go to work."

Del. Mary Roe Walkup, a Kent County Republican, said she wanted Brown to remember that while Kent County isn't getting any new jobs, "eventually, this thing will affect rural counties. We're within a reasonable commuting distance" of the jobs coming to Aberdeen, the Fort Meade area, Andrews Air Force Base and Southern Maryland.

Another source of tension could be attempts to use BRAC to get money for long-sought local projects -- such as the vocational-technical high school that Del. Richard K. Impallaria, a Republican who represents parts of eastern Baltimore and Harford counties, said he wants to see built.

Availability of federal funding for infrastructure is another difficult issue, but Brown said the sub-Cabinet's plan would address it. The plan is expected to be the basis for fiscal 2009 state budget decisions.

The group is to include state Cabinet secretaries representing key areas such as transportation, education and planning, several of whom accompanied Brown to the hearing. They plan to meet every two weeks and visit all regions of Maryland in gathering information to make recommendations to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"The purpose of the sub-Cabinet is to improve the planning that's already going forward," Brown told the committee -- a reference to work done by state and local agencies since the federal BRAC decisions were announced in November 2005.

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