Growth forum seeing red

Public transit, land reform called for to improve development

August 03, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Red, the color code for development, has proliferated on planning maps of Maryland since the 1970s. And if current trends continue, it will almost eliminate by 2030 the green spaces on maps of the state's central area and along the Chesapeake Bay, according to organizers of a forum on growth held in Bel Air.

A presentation on growth that included a progression of redder maps was part of a Smarter Growth forum that drew more than 50 people to the Bel Air Library on Tuesday.

"Development is threatening our rural land," Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, deputy director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, told those in attendance. "We need to talk about the 2030 Maryland we want to live in and how we can get there."

Terry Cummings, manager of advocacy for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said "We need to pass meaningful growth management reform, and we need a lot of people involved in the effort."

A similar Smarter Growth forum took place Monday in the city of Frederick. Both discussions attracted officials, planners and community activists eager to talk about conservation, stronger land-use policies, more public transportation and reductions in pollution.

Smart Growth legislation adopted in the 1990s promised state infrastructure support for development concentrated in and near established communities, yet 75 percent of the growth in the past decade has occurred outside those areas, forum organizers said. In the past 10 years, vehicle miles have increased 23 percent as residents move farther away from their jobs, and while high gasoline prices may lower that percentage, the threat to the state's rural landscape remains strong, Cummings said.

Alan Girard, the foundation's senior land use policy manager, said legislators must better define areas intended for growth and fund infrastructure to support development in those communities. Girard said he will work during the 2009 legislative session for laws that ensure the enforceability of local comprehensive plans and funding for capital projects.

"If we are really trying to make growth smarter, we need to look at infrastructure improvements," Girard said. "We also need meaningful financial disincentives to direct growth away from rural areas."

Ray Heil, a Towson resident who attended the Harford forum, said jurisdictions should enact zoning that makes their designated growth areas desirable places in which to live and work.

"We need mixed-used development in our growth areas, so we can create an urban village where residents don't have to get in the car for everything," he said. "No one likes density when it is not well designed. But we have an opportunity to build nice places."

Judy Rose of Joppa said Riverside along Route 40 in southern Harford is such a community. It features offices, light industry, residences, schools and shopping areas, she said.

"There is a sense of community without the feeling of being shoved in," she said.

Craig Ward, president of a Harford architectural firm, urged the audience to "focus on what we want to see and change the laws to get that to happen."

Moratoriums imposed because of crowded schools deter growth in planned areas and are spurring development in rural areas, he said.

Susan A.M. Stroud, director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, praised Harford County's efforts to focus growth around its three municipalities but criticized its inability to keep pace with the demand for infrastructure.

"Don't make growth areas dysfunctional with adequate-public-facilities regulations that don't work," she said.

Harford officials have been rewriting the county's 25-year-old zoning code to address such issues. Public meetings have helped gather ideas, and a county-appointed work group has made suggestions for revisions and participated in workshops with the County Council. Four advisory boards - agricultural, environmental, historic preservation and planning - have also commented. A 400-page document will soon come before the County Council.

Many at the forum said they are not satisfied with the revisions. The proposals lack innovation and represent little change in the status quo, they said.

If Harford is to grow smarter, it will have to do better, Morita Bruce said. Like many in the audience, she is a member of Friends of Harford, a nonprofit group that advocates responsible land use. Friends of Harford members urged more mass transit rather than highway construction, improvements in school design to conserve available land and revitalization of blight areas.

Girard promised to hold another forum in the county this fall.

"It is good to get this feedback," he said. "It helps us form a conversation on the state level."

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