"Smart growth" plan worries some in county

February 09, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Of all the proposals being pushed this year by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the one that could have the most impact on Washington County is his so-called smart growth plan, which could touch everyone from farmers to homeowners to industry.

But whether the effects will be good or bad depends on who you ask.

"There will be a significant beneficial impact," Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager said.

"The more I hear about it, the less I like it," said Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington.

Glendening has argued that past government policies have promoted sprawl and have led to roads, schools and other projects being built away from the established towns and neighborhoods. The result has been higher taxpayers costs and fewer natural resources, he said.

"The time has come to change our ways, to stop this inefficient pattern of development," Glendening said.

His response has been a group of anti-sprawl proposals that would:

  • Establish "Smart Growth Areas" to focus state dollars in areas already served by public works projects.
  • Spend $163 million in state funds over five years to buy land and conservation easements to protect 90,000 acres of agricultural, forest and natural areas.
  • Use tax credits to encourage businesses to invest in "Smart Growth Areas."

"Growing smart makes good sense to our future. We need to protect Maryland's resources, invest our dollars wisely, and create a state that is a good place for children to live and work," he said.

It could be weeks or months before the true local impact of smart growth is known, and that's what has many local officials worried.

Many say they have been burned in the past by state legislation that at first did not appear intrusive - such as the state's forest conservation law, which is now widely criticized in the county for the restrictions it places on development.

"It's too early in the legislation to figure out what this is going to do to us," County Administrator Rodney L. Shoop said.

But what they do know has already stirred some concern. For starters, some officials feel smart growth could translate into less local involvement in development, especially in critical planning and zoning matters.

"Those types of decisions should be made at the local level," Shoop said.

A proposed map of smart growth areas does not include many of the areas the county has already spotlighted for development, such as Fort Ritchie and some existing business parks. Most noticeable is the omission of much of the commercial and industrial land along Interstate 81.

"It totally stops the major thrust of what is going to allow Western Maryland to grow in the next few years," Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said smart growth could scuttle the attempt of a manufacturer that is thinking of building a plant on agricultural land in Allegany County. The facility would create up to 500 much-needed jobs, he said.

"If the governor's proposal becomes law, that factory could not locate in Allegany County," Taylor said.

Some feel smart growth could be a double-edge sword for farmers: While many will benefit from the added funding for agricultural land preservation, those who don't qualify could see their land value fall because of the lack of available state dollars for development in their area.

And then there's the concern that what state money is available will be funneled into the Baltimore/Washington area.

"I certainly don't want to support something that means all the funding goes to the big cities," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, whose district includes the southern part of the county.

"Where does that leave us?" asked Fred K. Teeter Jr., executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

But Sager, who has supported Glendening on a number of issues, doesn't see smart growth as a way to divert money away from Hagerstown, or even from the smaller communities in the county.

In fact, he said smart growth could aid the revitalization of all existing communities, be it Hagerstown or Boonsboro or Hancock. That was the argument used last month when local officials appealed to the state Board of Public Works to approve funding for the renovation of South Hagerstown High School.

Sager said he sees smart growth as a way to encourage development in certain areas - not an abolishment of local zoning authority.

"This is not that. This is just the state deciding where to spend the state's dollars," Sager said

Policies that promote growth in existing cities, towns and communities makes good sense because taxpayers will save by spending dollars in areas where they have already made a significant investment, he said.

"The more sprawled out people are, the more expensive it is to deliver services to them," he said.

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