Storm water regulations are compatible with smart growth

February 19, 2010

Let's not dump Maryland's stormwater regulations overboard ("A threat to Smart Growth" Feb. 2). Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., other local governments and developers have raised the alarm that the new regulations will halt smart growth infill and redevelopment projects. We reviewed the regulations with the same concern in mind, but the combination of the stronger standard for new development in suburban and rural areas and the flexibility for urban areas and redevelopment allows for both smart growth and better management of stormwater.

Looking prospectively, the regulations offer a step-by-step approach that starts with site selection and protection of critical natural areas, then applies "environmental site design" techniques followed by more traditional engineering solutions where needed. For urban and redevelopment sites, where these steps prove inadequate, the developer may make off-site improvements and/or monetary contributions.

Are there transit stations and redeveloping suburban corridor sites that should qualify for the urban standard? There may be, but let's first try out the new regulations to find out.

Successful, higher density smart growth projects incorporate green infrastructure like street trees and parks to provide beauty and cleaner air and water. Casey Trees reports that people travel farther, visit more frequently and pay more for goods and services in business districts with trees. The new greener stormwater tools can attract people to revitalizing communities and the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland, Oregon and the town of Edmonston, Maryland are already using green techniques in their own stormwater programs.

Maryland should back up the regulations by fixing aging infrastructure in neighborhoods where people already live a central tenet of smart growth. At the same time, let's test out the new regulations on the ground so we can know if the built-in flexibility for urban and redevelopment sites is enough. But let's not delay or weaken the law and regulations amid the rapid-fire process of a short General Assembly session.

Stewart Schwartz, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

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