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Delegates evaluate Smart Growth

February 17, 2001

Delegates evaluate Smart Growth



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


ANNAPOLIS - Maryland's anti-sprawl Smart Growth policy has been in place for nearly four years, but local officials say it has been difficult to determine its effect in Washington County.

The biggest impact has been in downtown Hagerstown, where the state built a new District Court building and is about to renovate another building for a satellite campus of the University System of Maryland.

The location of both projects resulted largely from the Smart Growth policy.

"It's certainly helped Hagerstown. There's an excitement in Hagerstown that I've not seen before," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

But it's harder to gauge whether the policy has really directed growth to take place in higher density areas.

Washington County was already steering growth to areas in and around municipalities, said Planning Director Robert Arch.

"There hasn't been a major change in the growth," he said.

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Hecht said Smart Growth is less evident in rural areas of the state.

It will come into play more if Washington County starts to experience a high rate of growth, which she is convinced will happen.

"The rate in the belly of the snake is going to keep moving west," she said.

Many members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly praise the Smart Growth concept.

"I don't want Washington County to become another Montgomery County and it seems to me that Smart Growth assists that from happening," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Munson and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, especially like the farmland preservation aspect.

"When we preserve that land it will never be developed. It will remain a green spot," Munson said.

Del. Louise V. Snodgrass said she thinks the policy has caused problems for some municipalities that have aging infrastructure the state hasn't been willing to help fix.

The policy has also been used as a reason not to pay for road bypasses, including one in Middletown, Md., said Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

"How are municipalities supposed to handle Smart Growth when the state highways run right through them?" she asked.

Some Washington County residents have also criticized Smart Growth, although not by name, Arch said.

Two years ago, hundreds of people came out to protest a 230-home development between Mount Aetna Road and the Brightwood Acres, Londontowne and Fairway Meadows subdivisions.

It was exactly the kind of dense housing that Smart Growth encourages.

The new homes were approved despite objections from neighbors, who feared it would hurt their neighborhood by greatly increasing traffic, creating additional flooding problems and putting a strain on the public schools.

Gov. Parris Glendening is pushing for a $228 million expansion of Smart Growth programs during this session of the Maryland General Assembly.

The proposals the legislature is now scrutinizing include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Creating an Office of Special Secretary for Smart Growth, $700,000.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Initiating GreenPrint, a program to preserve ecologically valuable land, $40 million.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Increasing the Rural Legacy land preservation program by $10.8 million for a total of $38.6 million.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Creating a Community Parks and Playgrounds initiative, $15 million.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Creating a Community Legacy program for neighborhood revitalization, $15 million.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Spending $1.3 million on local Smart Growth planning services.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Spending $82 million on mass transit.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Spending $56 million on streetscaping, underground sidewalks and other transportation projects that help revitalize neighborhoods.

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