Sprawl too much, too fast, poll finds

Traffic, loss of farmland key concerns

most say state should play bigger role

October 18, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,SUN REPORTER

Most Marylanders believe that development and growth are occurring too rapidly and are affecting their communities negatively, according to a poll released yesterday.

The telephone poll, a random sample of 1,000 registered voters surveyed by 1000 Friends of Maryland, an anti-sprawl group, found that most respondents want the state to take a stronger role in coordinating and steering growth to existing communities.

Respondents listed traffic congestion as one of their top concerns, and a majority supported spending more on public transit even if it meant spending less on improving roads.

The results of the poll echo those of an earlier one, undertaken by The Sun two years ago, which also found that most Marylanders thought growth was coming too rapidly to their communities. The latest poll went further in that it asked people what they thought should be done about it.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends, said she and other growth-management advocates hope to use the results to press the O'Malley administration to follow through with its pledge to strengthen the state's smart growth laws and policies.

The poll, conducted for the group by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, sought the views of Maryland voters on a variety of proposals for managing growth.

The survey found that residents are "highly concerned" about the rate of growth and development in Maryland, with large numbers expressing dissatisfaction with the way growth has been managed on the state and local levels. As a result, the vast majority of respondents said, they support policy proposals to limit growth or guide it in directions that would minimize its impact.

The survey, conducted June 5-11, offered a list of issues and asked respondents to rate each as a problem: "extremely," "very," "somewhat" or "not too serious." (The margin of error for the sample as a whole is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points; margins of error for subgroups within the sample might be higher.)

Overall, respondents said they consider traffic, housing costs, loss of farmland and poorly planned growth as some of the most serious problems facing Maryland.

Traffic ranked near the top of respondents' concerns, with 66 percent calling it an "extremely" or "very serious" problem.

More voters rated traffic as a "very serious" problem than said the same for public education, the cost of health insurance, or taxes. Fifty-six percent rated loss of farmland and poorly planned growth and development as "extremely" or "very serious" problems.

Asked about the pace of growth and development in their communities, 53 percent said it was too fast, 37 percent said it was about right, and 8 percent said it was too slow.

Most respondents agreed that the public does not have enough control over local plans for growth and that many of the state's problems are a direct result of growth and development. More than two-thirds disagreed with the notion that Maryland has enough open space and that further protections are unnecessary.

Leslie Knapp, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said the pollsters evidently failed to pose some crucial follow-up questions. He gave as an example the issue of people's desire to have the state steer growth to existing communities.

"The problem then becomes that you have to deal with the NIMBY factor - not in my back yard," said Knapp, whose organization lobbies on legislative and policy issues for the state's 23 counties and the city of Baltimore. "When you try to concentrate growth, you get significant citizen resistance. You'd need to ask people what amount of new development would you be willing to accept to keep it out of more rural areas."

In a similar vein, he referred to the apparently wide support for mass transit. "But if you put together a good system - one that encourages people to use it, that's convenient and efficient - it costs a lot of money, and there's a limit to what people will pay," said Knapp.

He said counties and municipalities have traditionally had control over growth issues within their boundaries, with the state in an advisory role, and that he would like to see it remain that way.

John E. Kortecamp, chief executive officer and executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, an advocacy group, said there was nothing new in the survey's findings.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.

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