Growth concerns aired at forums


Stephanie Carroll and Mary Veber live in different parts of Anne Arundel County, but last week they expressed the same worries.

Ms. Carroll, 30, of Annapolis, objected to the unsightly sprawl of shopping centers; Ms. Veber, 45, of Glen Burnie fears increased traffic congestion.

Both worried the county is growing out of control.

"You drive up Ritchie Highway, and it's one shopping mall after another," said Ms. Carroll, director of preservation for the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

"We just keep saying, 'Oh, here's more land to build on.' "

Ms. Veber, a secretary for a Caterpillar distribution plant in Howard County, added, "I have a terrible time just getting out of my driveway."

Their voices were among several hundred heard by county planners during a series of forums that ended Wednesday on the future of Anne Arundel County.

The forums were the first step in the preparation of a "general development plan" that will guide construction and public policy for the next 25 years.

"I think 'quality of life' were the common buzzwords heard at every one of the forums," said Rick Morgan, president of Annapolis National Bank and chairman of the General Development Plan Steering Committee.

"You heard the same quality-of-life concerns from people who were interested in protecting the environment and people who were purely interested in the business community," said Mr. Morgan, whose panel is charged with drafting the plan and presenting it to the County Council by next summer.

This will be the county's fourth development plan since 1968. Changes in technology, the environment and residents' habits have forced the county to update its plan periodically, officials said.

At the forums -- in Glen Burnie, Odenton, Annapolis and Arnold -- residents were asked to name the major issues facing the county and to list the county's greatest assets.

The Chesapeake Bay was overwhelmingly tabbed as Anne Arundel's greatest attraction. But residents also vented frustrations with congestion, air pollution, a lack of affordable housing for the elderly and inadequate public transportation, and loss of the county's rural heritage.

"People want to see open spaces and green areas preserved," said Richard Josephson, a senior planner with the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement. "Areas that are lower density, they want to stay lower density. Areas that have a rural character, they want to stay that way."

That's exactly what Carl Witte, 81, of Odenton had on his mind when he went to the forum at Arundel High School. The retired Army colonel frets that the county is losing its farmland.

"As we have farmers going out of business, we have their heirs looking to sell the land," Mr. Witte said. "I do believe the county should consider buying the farms to preserve green areas."

vTC Walter Jacobs, 66, of Cape St. John, a 200-home community on the South River, complained that the county had not adequately planned new schools and roads to keep pace with population growth.

"What has so often happened is that developers of homes have been allowed to [build] without the appropriate infrastructure, such as roads and schools," said Mr. Jacobs.

The county's plan to target growth in Parole, for example, would cause "terrible gridlock," he said.

The problems of suburban sprawl were not the biggest issues in everyone's view. Charles Brenton, a Glen Burnie landscape architect, said the decay of the county's urban areas -- Brooklyn Park, Linthicum and Glen Burnie -- also must be addressed.

Comments made at the forums will be used to draft a set of goals, such as protecting the bay, for the development plan, Mr. Josephson said. Those goals will be unveiled at a second round of forums in October.

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