A threat to Smart Growth

State's proposed storm water regulations would impede redevelopment projects

February 02, 2010|By James T. Smith Jr.

The Baltimore Sun recently published an editorial in support of the Maryland Department of the Environment's proposed new storm water regulations, to become effective May 4. What The Sun's editorial neglected to appreciate was the threat these new regulations pose to Smart Growth in Maryland.

Particularly for Maryland's most populous jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, redevelopment provides a critical opportunity to absorb new population growth, maximize the use of public infrastructure and create economic opportunity and jobs, while simultaneously reducing consumption of valuable land and rural open space. Redevelopment decreases sprawl and its creation of new impervious surfaces, reduces storm water runoff per capita and improves water quality in our existing watersheds by redeveloping sites that were originally built when there was no storm water management whatsoever required. Unfortunately, the state's new storm water regulations run counter to the principles of Smart Growth redevelopment and will encourage further sprawl and destruction of precious greenfields.

In the editorial, The Sun stated that "if the policy causes more building in open spaces, wouldn't that ultimately be worse for the environment?" I answer, absolutely. What we do not want to encourage are future Blackwater refuge or Terrapin Run developments. The editorial correctly notes my concern that by discouraging redevelopment or renaissance in established communities, these new regulations will undermine Smart Growth policies and encourage the open space land rush that the Sun editorial warns about.

Baltimore County has served as a model for Smart Growth for at least the last 30 plus years. As a county councilman in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was involved in establishing our county's land use policies. I led the adoption of our RC-2 Zoning (one lot for 50 acres) and the establishment of the County's Ag Land Preservation Foundation, as well as the adoption of the Owings Mills Town Center Master Plan, which was intended to maximize the proposed Baltimore subway extension and Interstate 795.

Baltimore County has been recognized as one of the most nature-friendly communities in the country in Chris Duerkson's "Nature Friendly Communities." Today, 80 percent of the 802,000 people in Baltimore County live on 30 percent of the land. Controlling sprawl in Baltimore County has preserved our land (one of the largest preserved green spaces in the Mid-Atlantic region), maximized our public infrastructure and has protected Baltimore City's reservoirs and the drinking water of 1.8 million people in the Baltimore region.

During the last seven years, Baltimore County has aggressively promoted our county's renaissance to reinvigorate and enhance our historic older neighborhoods. With the enthusiastic support of the people in our communities, this renaissance mission, built upon our long history of commitment to smart growth, has made a difference.

One example is Towson Manor Village, a redevelopment of 40 deteriorated, substandard rental units built when there was no storm water management into a community of 240 beautiful new housing opportunities in the heart of Towson.

This project has broad community support and is an excellent example of smart growth. The old units have been demolished and the project awaits a turnaround in the depressed housing market. Under the proposed storm water regulations, Towson Manor Village would not even qualify as a redevelopment project and simply would not have happened under the new requirements for greenfield areas. In fact, most of Baltimore County's residential communities in our older neighborhoods between the Baltimore City line and just outside the Beltway would not qualify as redevelopment under the new storm water regulations.

Even in those cases where a project could qualify as redevelopment, the proposed increase in the storm water quality treatment required for redevelopment would jeopardize the project. Kingsley Park, now known and redeveloped as Renaissance Square, eliminated more than 300 crime-ridden and dilapidated units in Essex that also had no storm water management in place. New residential, single-family and senior housing is now being built, and storm water controls are in place. To make this renaissance possible, Baltimore County provided $7 million in project support. Had the new storm water regulations been in effect, the cost of the storm water treatment would have more than doubled, making this project cost prohibitive.

The recent EPA/MDE strategy for cleaning up the bay relies heavily on retrofitting storm water infrastructure for older communities. To do this, we need our environmental regulations to support redevelopment. We need redevelopment to make smart growth work. We can protect and enhance the Chesapeake Bay and promote smart growth at the same time. We should all be working together to make this happen.

James T. Smith Jr. is the Baltimore County executive. His e-mail is jimsmith @baltimorecountymd.gov.


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