Residents, county agree on development plans

Forum shows similar visions, lets residents air views on issues

November 02, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Participants in a state-organized planning forum at Aberdeen High School were each given one blue dot and one red one to place on a map of Harford County. The blue would denote an area to be preserved, while the red would show where growth should occur.

After about 50 residents placed their markers, the result was a near replica of a county planning map. Nearly all the reds lined the Interstate 95 and Route 40 corridors. Most of the blues filled the northern area of the county.

The exercise was one part of a listening session, organized by the Maryland Department of Planning and the Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development in Maryland. Similar sessions have taken place across the state, but Harford's was notable for its high turnout, officials said.

The session also included a presentation by the state planning director, an interactive survey and an open discussion. State officials, who are exploring land-use issues, have asked residents to share their ideas on how to preserve Maryland's unique character and their vision for how the state should look well into the future.

"We want to see how priorities come together to promote smart growth and outline the parameters for development," said Richard E. Hall, state secretary of planning.

During the survey, participants responded to nearly 20 development-themed questions. Their answers were electronically tallied and posted so all could see.

Most responders favored mixed-use communities that include housing, retail and businesses. They voted for landscaped and pedestrian-friendly streets, preserving vast areas of farmland and sustaining natural resources, particularly shorelines.

They called for more parks and recreational opportunities and schools and jobs within walking distance of homes. Most supported the state's efforts to promote smart growth.

Pete Gutwald, Harford's planning director, said he was not surprised by the responses.

"This was a typical planning exercise that is consistent with what we have found in local sessions," he said. "It can serve as a litmus test for what needs to be done."

An open discussion gave participants an opportunity to urge the state to fund more public transportation, agricultural preservation and infrastructure upgrades.

"Stop building roads and increase mass transit," said Judy Rose of Joppa.

She also asked for redevelopment of the county's older communities, saying, "People need places where they can live and work."

Robert Price of Aberdeen called for a halt to improvements to I-95, which, he said, only encourage residential development. Stephanie Stone of Street said I-95 "is driving Harford's sprawl."

The state is considering a plan to widen the interstate to include express toll lanes from White Marsh in Baltimore County to Aberdeen.

As the state continues to write its own master growth plan, officials said they are taking cues from the listening sessions and surveys and are trying to incorporate the comments and concepts that participants have recommended.

Those who could not attend the session can take the survey online at www.mdp.state.md.us.

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