Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed a 17-member panel yesterday that he says is the linchpin to controlling residential and commercial sprawl in Maryland's suburbs.
The panel will oversee and guide the 23 counties and Baltimore )) City and other municipalities as they revise local land-use regulations to reflect the "seven visions" for growth adopted by nTC the General Assembly last year.
Those broad "visions" call on the local governments to channel construction into existing communities, which already have roads and other necessary public works, and away from the state's open and forested spaces. The law also requires them to develop a plan to protect "sensitive areas" not already covered by other environmental laws.
Maryland needs "compact and efficient development" to cope with the influx of an estimated 1 million people during the next 30 years, said Ronald Kreitner, director of the state Office of Planning. The state also must contend with a trend that has more and more people abandoning deteriorating urban areas, he said.
How the local governments achieve those "visions" has been left to them. They have until 1997 to comply.
"Right now there are 'visions,' but there aren't any standards," said Jane Nishida, Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group. "It's up to the local governments to turn the 'visions' into reality."
Environmentalists had pushed for tougher statewide standards to regulate and direct growth, but local governments successfully argued for the flexibility to tailor programs to
their jurisdictions' individual needs.
"Now, it's up to the commission to make sure that flexibility doesn't lead to inaction," Ms. Nishida said.
The commission, chaired by former Anne Arundel County planning and zoning officer Florence B. "Becki" Kurdle, includes members from 11 counties, environmental and business groups, and state and local governments. It's primary power comes from annual report that it must prepare on the state and local governments' progress.
State Sen. Gerald Winegrad, an Annapolis Democrat and leading Senate environmentalist, said he was "bitterly disappointed" that the panel wasn't appointed last year.
But, he said, he remains hopeful that the commission can achieve the political consensus needed to pass real growth-management reforms.
"Now we may be a year behind in making the changes needed," he said. But, "at some point, we are going to have to deal with that 500-pound gorilla called sprawl."