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Saving 'Smart Growth'

February 16, 1999

There's an old saying among lawyers that "hard cases make bad law." It means that difficult legal cases often result in decisions that aren't in citizens' best interests.

That's the danger facing Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's "Smart Growth" program, which is under fire because it would block six projects, five of which citizens say are needed to relieve traffic congestion in areas across the state. The governor needs to find a way to compromise, or risk seeing opponents overturn the 1997 legislation.

Herald-Mail supported that legislation, because, as opposed to the ill-fated 2020 program, which would have allowed state-level planners to second-guess every local land-use decision, "Smart Growth" rewarded those areas that kept sprawl in check and redeveloped existing urban areas.

Five of the six projects under challenge are bypasses of older urban areas. Despite the best intentions of planners who put together such projects, bypasses usually lead to new development along their routes. The Capital Beltway, which was supposed to route traffic around Washington, D.C., is the perfect example of a bypass that spurred sprawl instead.

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The sixth project is a $53 million police training center proposed for Sykesville, which Glendening wants in a more urban setting, on the idea that all the police coming and going to training sessions would discourage criminal activity.

On the bypass issue, we urge the governor to look at traffic-safety issues, then approve the bypass projects needed for that purpose - with a catch. Any state funds for those projects should come with a proviso that these roads are limited-access arteries- with no new exits or driveways allowed. If local officials relented, future state aid would be in jeopardy.

As for the police training center, millions have already been spent at the Sykesville site, which has the support of State Treasurer Richard Dixon and Comptroller William D. Schaefer. The governor may have to accepting losing this one land-use battle, so that he can win the "Smart Growth" war.

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