2020 proposal to govern Md. growth put off Schaefer initiative rejected by House, Senate committees


ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration was dealt another stinging defeat yesterday, as a major proposal for managing growth in Maryland and preserving the Chesapeake Bay died in House and Senate committees.

The Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act -- the result of 18 months of study by a gubernatorial commission formed to guide land use until the year 2020 -- had been attacked from the beginning by county governments, farmers, banks, real estate firms and others who charged that the state was invading the domain of private property.

Though decisively killed by the committee votes, the so-called 2020 bill was referred for further study during the summer. It could emerge in a form acceptable to the General Assembly, but supporters of the bill worry that summer study might be a delaying tactic that could doom the measure.

"I'm deeply disappointed," said Michael D. Barnes, the former congressman from Montgomery County appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to head the study panel recommending the 2020 proposals.

"It would be tragic if this issue isn't taken up again quickly. Every day that goes by sees further deterioration of the bay and decimation of the rural areas and beauty of Maryland," Mr. Barnes said.

Yesterday's defeat of the 2020 bill marked the second major blow to Governor Schaefer's 1991 legislative package. Last week, his request for a major restructuring of state taxes and $800 million in new tax revenue also was referred for study. Forecasts for the tax proposal, however, seemed markedly more positive than those offered yesterday for the 2020 bill.

David S. Iannucci, Mr. Schaefer's chief legislative aide, said he also was disappointed. But he said the first step in what is often a two-step legislative process had begun.

"First you have to convince people there's a problem. Then you have to convince them you have the solution," he said.

"There will be 900,000 more Marylanders in the next 30 years. They will have to live somewhere. The question is: Do we allow growth to go on unchecked or do we channel it?" he asked.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said the 2020 bill had generated too many unanswered questions.

Although they did not establish a deadline for completion of the study they have ordered, both men said they did not reject the need for more controls on growth and development in the state.

"People thought this bill threatened property rights without just compensation," Senator Miller said. That perception, he said, is accurate.

Such bills always require "a delicate balancing" of individual and public interests -- and the state has managed to do that well in its recent critical-areas legislation and wetlands protection, he said.

Will Baker, head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a major proponent of the bill, said: "I hope the bay can wait; I'm afraid it can't. We've had progress for 15 years, but today we took a step backward."

The 2020 bill died in the House Environmental Matters Committee on a vote of 18-4, with one abstention. In the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, the bill failed on a vote of 10-1.

"The fatal flaw," said Delegate Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, chairman of the House committee and a member of the 2020 commission, "was the general public not having enough time to see how the bill would impact them."

Among those who greeted yesterday's news with enthusiasm were Charles "Chip" MacLeod, a representative of the Maryland Association of Counties, which had strenuously opposed the bill -- though not the concept of growth management.

"We would like to have this process stepped up to another plane," he said. "It's not just a matter of saving the bay. We have to look more carefully at growth management to preserve economic development, put a cap on construction and generally improve the quality of life."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad