Maryland's `Smart Growth' Law Limits Subsidies for Suburban Sprawl

By Neal Peirce Copyright Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 16, 1997 | Go to article overview

Maryland's `Smart Growth' Law Limits Subsidies for Suburban Sprawl


Neal Peirce Copyright Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The other 49 states should take an early, hard look at Maryland's breakthrough "Smart Growth" policy, just approved by the Legislature at the urgent bidding of Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.

Finally, one of America's state governments has done a reality check, recognized sprawl development's incredibly heavy costs, and started thinking about potential savings - fiscal, social, environmental - from curbing state subsidies.

Glendening's successful legislation tells local governments that the state will withhold, or at least sharply limit, any subsidies for new roads, sewers or schools for territory outside state-targeted "Smart Growth" areas. Counties, under this formula, can go ahead and approve development in rural and lightly populated areas. Local government zoning powers are unimpaired. But unless new projects are located within existing municipalities, are inside the Baltimore and Washington beltways or are already served by water and sewer systems, local taxpayers will have to bear 100 percent of the costs. Maryland is trying, in short, to repeal what state Planning Director Ronald Kreitner calls "an insidious form of entitlement - the idea that state government has an open-ended obligation, regardless of where you choose to build a house or open a business, to be there to build roads, schools, sewers." "It means," state Sen. Brian Frosh told The Washington Post, "we won't be throwing state money after the last town house out in some cornfield somewhere." What's intriguing here is that growth management, traditionally regarded as a "liberal" cause of environmentalists and other softhearted people, suddenly turns into a measure of conservative cost-cutting. "This just makes sense in terms of fiscal prudence for government," says Kreitner. As a prime example of waste, he points out that Maryland today spends some $100 million a year extra to bus kids to schools in new developments too sprawling for them to walk to school. At the same time, population flight has caused hundreds of schools, in walkable cities and inner-ring suburbs, to close. Glendening oddly enough cut his political teeth in Prince George's County, a Washington suburb long run by developers, land speculators, real estate interests and allied attorneys. But his growth management approach suggests a formula likely to be attractive to governors in other states. For a half-century, Glendening argues, government policies have underwritten sprawl, encouraging people to leave established neighborhoods, "making it seem as if moving out is, somehow or other, moving up. …

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