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Incentive plan may help to curb suburban sprawl

June 14, 1999

Like almost every other state, Pennsylvania's state government is caught in a tug-of-war between those citizens who want their own little piece of the country and that reality that if left unchecked, suburban sprawl will be a budget-buster.

By failing to go forward with the recommendations of his own commission, Gov. Tom Ridge looks like a man more determined to avoid offending builders than an official trying to solve a problem.

The 21st Century Environment Commission spent more than a year studying growth patterns in the state and last fall issued more than 200 recommendations. Among them: Regional planning and zoning and "urban growth boundaries," in which development is confined to already developed areas which have the infrastructure, like municipal water and sewer, to handle it.

Washington County has had an urban growth area system for years, but Ridge apparently feels he needs citizen support for such recommendations,. To get it, he's scheduled a series of 50 forums around the state this summer to discuss sprawl and the implications of growth.

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The forums should educate those unaware of such things about the cost of sprawl, since a single-family house seldom generates enough tax money to pay for the services. like schools, for example, that its occupants require.

The forums should also provide each community with information about which property owners want to develop their holdings, since anyone likely to be adversely affected by a series of new restrictions would be foolish not to express an opinion about them.

We suggest Pennsylvania look at the approach taken in Maryland, which rejected the idea of centralized land-use planning control in favor of rewarding localities for compliance with what's called the "Smart Growth" ordinance.

Develop where you wish, Maryland officials say, but if your development is outside a Smart Growth area, don't expect state help with sewer lines and the like. In other words, those who do right get state help; those who don't get to pay the bill on their own.

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