Boost for Smart Growth sought

O'Malley, Cabinet, others meet on ways to reinvigorate anti-sprawl effort

August 24, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Cabinet closeted themselves with former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and out-of-state planning experts yesterday to hash over ways to reinvigorate Smart Growth, the state's decade-old sprawl-fighting effort that some say has failed to live up to its promise.

"The public is crying out for this," O'Malley said in opening the two-day internal workshop on growth management at an Annapolis hotel.

Though welcoming up to 60,000 new jobs to the state from military base realignment, the governor said Maryland needs to figure out how to accommodate the new people while still preserving its environment and quality of life.

The state's population has increased by 30 percent since 1973, O'Malley noted, while the amount of land developed has doubled.

"If in the next 30 years we grow like that again, I shudder to think about the future we're going to leave for our kids," he said.

The governor said he hoped the workshop, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts, would help his administration tweak state development policy so that it protects Chesapeake Bay and saves taxpayers money but also is "predictable," so businesses, farmers and residents can all get behind it.

"We need to find predictable ways that we as a people can say no to development that is irresponsible and say yes to development that is responsible," he said,

The workshop was organized by the Governors' Institute on Community Design, a Washington-based nonprofit group formed two years ago by Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and former EPA administrator.

Since leaving the State House five years ago, Glendening, who launched Maryland's Smart Growth policy in 1997, has carved out a career for himself as a national advocate for curbing sprawl.

The institute has held similar growth-management workshops in Delaware, Virginia, Arizona and Rhode Island.

But Glendening said that because he got Smart Growth going in Maryland, "this one has kind of a special interest and affection for me."

Though the press was notified of O'Malley's remarks to the workshop, reporters were barred from the rest of the workshop. Christine Hansen, deputy press secretary, said it amounted to a work session of the governor's Cabinet, which can be held behind closed doors under the state's Public Meetings Act.

Glendening said that he had offered to work with O'Malley to restore what he said is the state's faded prominence in the nationwide effort to curb sprawl.

Some have faulted former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for neglecting or undermining the effort, but others have questioned whether state funding alone is a powerful enough incentive to counter market forces and local zoning practices that seem to favor development in green fields over rebuilding faded urban communities.

Under Smart Growth, state laws and policies give priority to funding roads, water and sewer and other public infrastructure in designated growth areas, where homes and buildings are to be densely clustered.

But most of the tracts on which houses were built were outside of designated growth areas, and the share grew from 1992 through 2004, the latest year for which data are available, according to the state Department of Planning.

Among those invited to advise the O'Malley administration was Robert Liberty, former president of 1000 Friends of Oregon, who was recently elected to the council governing the Portland metropolitan area.

Oregon's stringent development controls have curbed sprawl but were loosened by a voter backlash over property rights a few years ago.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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