Aegis editorial says county to try to ease new state growth limits

September 06, 2012

The Harford County Council is poised to attempt action to ease development restrictions imposed by the Maryland General Assembly in the 2012 session. In short, the restrictions apply to areas outside Harford County's official development area.

That area, known as the Development Envelope, is served by public water lines and sanitary sewer service, making it most suitable for large scale residential and commercial development. The affected area, even on county planning documents, is largely rural.

Rural territory, however, is coveted for residential development because houses in rural settings have a strong "get away from it all" market appeal. The more of them that are built, however, the more there is to get away from, and, importantly, the greater the strain on groundwater for wells and drainage fields for septic tanks.

From a certain perspective, the county and state should probably be on the same page in trying to confine development to areas served by public infrastructure (to also include roadways, schools and other amenities). It is more expensive to provide public services to widely dispersed populations than to communities in population centers.

And there's the political reality that the electorate is generally opposed to new development, though generally in favor of the developments that enabled them to live where they do. Also, however, the electorate is generally against government interference with property rights, unless those rights are being used by someone building something somewhere they don't want, like the Walmart in Emmorton.

It's well-established that the community, using the government as a tool, can't pick and choose which developments it wants and which it wants to reject on a case by case basis. The rules need to be set in advance and developers need to abide by them. This is a reality no one wants to hear, least of all the developers who lavish local political leaders with campaign donations.

Is the state's plan a better alternative than the county's when it comes to limiting development? Possibly, but probably not. Local control over local development policy has long been seen as a superior alternative to a from on-high approach. Still, the county (and Harford's municipalities) does a less than wonderful job at directing growth and providing adequate infrastructure.

It's unlikely whatever comes of the county's showdown with the state over development policy will result in a meaningful change in the way land is developed in Harford County, to one extreme or the other.

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