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dm 20dfeb01 - smart growth

February 20, 2001

'Smart Growth' good policy, but will next gov think so?



Even if Maryland's next governor is more of a road-builder than Parris Glendening, we still don't expect his successor to reject the idea known as "Smart Growth." It may be called something else, but there are too many reasons to like it to dump it after only four years in effect.

Smart Growth in effects restricts growth to those areas where the infrastructure - water, sewer and roads - are already in place to handle it. Instead of development further from the urban centers, Smart Growth trims expenses by using what's already there. In the process it preserves farm land and encourages renovation and redevelopment of older urban properties.

Unlike the 2020 plan proposed during the administration of Gov. William D. Schaefer, which would have subjected all local land-use decision to state, Smart Growth doesn't prevent questionable land-use decisions or those that lead to sprawl. It just says that if the local governments want to okay that, fine, but don't expect the state to help pay for it.

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Smart Growth has its downside, to be sure. As a result of it, the state government isn't helping to fund bypasses around older cities, on the grounds that they encourage sprawl. That means the bypass of Funkstown will have to be funded with local dollars, though its object is to keep an historic small town from being overrun by traffic.

On the other hand, the state's point is easier to understand if you look at what's happening on Eastern Boulevard. That road, designed to take traffic around Hagerstown has become a a magnet for new development and as a result, is more congested than any bypass should be.

In this region, Hagerstown stands to benefit most from Smart Growth. Its property-tax revenues have been flat for several years, a condition renovators attracted by state incentives might remedy. It's time for the city government to go after whatever is available, keeping in mind that even thought Smart Growth is a policy that makes sense, policies and governors can change.

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