High cost of sprawl should not be ignored

Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young's recent commentary in The Sun ("O'Malley's Smart Growth power grab," Sept. 19) demonstrates how someone who is losing an argument on its merits will summon scare tactics to oppose it: I call it the boogeyman strategy.

Maryland has been developing land at a historically rapid rate. The long-term consequences of that impact on agricultural land and waterways threaten Maryland and the thousands of jobs that accrue from those valuable resources. Mr. Young contends the O'Malley administration avoided the state legislature in developing PlanMaryland. The opposite is true: This administration is finally carrying out the will of the General Assembly on a state growth plan. In fact, when the 2010 General Assembly created the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission, it directed the commission to work with the Department of Planning on PlanMaryland.

Mr. Young writes, "What I find extremely interesting about PlanMaryland is not necessarily the content but the process," yet the process has followed what the state's 1974 Land Use Act outlined. At Governor O'Malley's direction, the Department of Planning set out three years ago to draft the plan by addressing one of the first "instructions" of the 1974 law. The statute specified that the Secretary of Planning seek comments from and consult with "local governments of the areas that are affected by the Plan and regional planning commissions … educational institutions … research organizations … civic groups … and interested persons." Three rounds of "listening sessions" during the past three years attracted 1,500 people to 30 locations around the state. An additional 1,500 people discussed the concept and the draft plan at dozens of smaller meetings. Most of those sessions were with officials from rural and suburban areas that Mr. Young believes were ignored.

Smart growth isn't an "urban thing," as he also contends. Great examples of the concept can be found throughout the state, including in Mr. Young's home county where some recently have raised fears about smart growth progress being undone.

Mr. Young and assorted other officials don't want to debate the cost-accounting of sprawl. They'd rather not enter a discussion about whether it is important to use taxpayer resources more efficiently on infrastructure, or get workers closer to jobs, or save commutes that keep growing, or ensure that Maryland's natural resources will be here for our children and grandchildren just as we've enjoyed them. There's no "veto power" mentioned in PlanMaryland as Mr. Young contends. You can see for yourself by joining many who've read the plan and commented on it at Plan.Maryland.gov. The plan does say that state taxpayers shouldn't continue to subsidize the corrosive impact of unwise land-use decisions. It's easier for Mr. Young to summon false demons than to try to take up the opposite of that argument.

Richard Eberhart Hall, Baltimore

The writer is Maryland Secretary of Planning.

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