Balto. Co. sees green in growth plan Glendening proposal for controlling sprawl expected to boost aid; 'We should benefit'; Chamber official says county zoning already most restrictive in U.S.


Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth proposal to curb suburban sprawl mirrors Baltimore County's long-established land-use policies -- and local officials hope that means increased state aid for the county.

The governor's proposal, announced recently as part of his 1997 legislative package, would focus public works spending on established communities while protecting rural land from development and encouraging reuse of old industrial sites.

Because Baltimore County already is using those principles to guide growth, officials hope the governor's proposal will help the county win more money for its community conservation and farmland preservation efforts, and spur economic rebirth in the southeastern part of the county.

"We should benefit," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "This has been our plan all along."

But questions remain about exactly how the governor's plan would work and whether the General Assembly will approve. And county business leaders aren't happy about the prospect of another layer of regulation on how they can use land.

"Baltimore County already has the most restrictive zoning in the nation," said Stuart D. Kaplow, Chamber of Commerce legislative vice president.

Despite such questions, county leaders remain enthusiastic about the governor's proposal. They note that the areas the state would like to promote match developed areas of the county, already served by public water and sewerage.

As a result, the Ruppersberger administration sees potential gains from all three sections of the governor's proposal:

If state money for public works is withheld from counties with less-restrictive development rules, that should mean more in the pot for Baltimore County, which restricts sprawl.

State tax breaks, loans and streamlined environmental regulations designed to return abandoned industrial land called "brownfields" into use should help 52 sites in Baltimore County, mostly in the economically depressed southeastern and southwestern areas of the county.

The new Rural Legacy part of the state program -- a proposed $160 million effort over five years -- could help Baltimore County's cash-strapped, $1 million-a-year agricultural preservation program protect hundreds more acres of farmland and stream banks.

Even Baltimore County's future Honeygo community, on 3,000 acres of mostly vacant land between Interstate 95 and Belair Road north of White Marsh, is included in the state Smart Growth area, according to a map given to county officials.

Several controversial sites, however, are not included in the growth areas proposed by the state, meaning they would receive no state development help.

For example, the proposed 3,000-unit Colvista, an Italiante hillside village site at York and Phoenix roads near Loch Raven Reservoir, is excluded, as is the land west of Falls Road and just north of the Baltimore Beltway -- a spot developers have coveted.

In general, however, the governor's proposal "validates our growth-management plan," said county Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller.

Baltimore County's growth-management plan was conceived by former County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis 20 years ago and adopted in 1979.

To control sprawl, it designated White Marsh and Owings Mills as repositories of most development and encouraged small projects in older neighborhoods where sewer lines and roads already existed. Rural farmland in the northern, northeastern and far western portions of the county was zoned for one house per 50 acres, discouraging tract developments.

The county's plan is "a model for growth," said William G. Carroll, a state planning official who helped to develop the governor's proposal. Other counties -- such as Howard and Charles, where large homes are going up on 3- or 5-acre lots -- are struggling with the cost of roads, schools and utilities to serve those homes.

"Single-family residences on large lots do not pay for themselves," said Thomas L. Bass, another state planner.

But not everyone in Baltimore County is pleased with the governor's proposal.

Kaplow, the chamber vice president who is a development lawyer, says the county already has crammed two-thirds of its 700,000 people onto one-third of its 610 square miles. He calls that unfair to landowners and developers.

"The chamber opposes any further state land-use control," he said, labeling even the county's growth-management plan "an intrusion in private property rights." Because of restrictive rural zoning, he said, "Baltimore County has an inadequate stock of developable land."

Thomas M. Ballentine, lobbyist for the county chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, was more cautious, noting that the details of the governor's plan aren't known. The test, he says, will be how the plan "matches what people on the ground need and want."

Ruppersberger, who represented the rural northern part of the county as a councilman for nine years, rejected complaints that the county does not have an adequate stock of land to develop.

"There's plenty of land available for good, high quality growth," he said.

George G. Perdikakis, county environmental director, said he is reviewing every county project to see where would fit -- or wouldn't fit -- into the state plan.

The county also wants to ensure that the state continues its commitment to reforestation and stream-restoration projects and to work at Hart-Miller Islands Natural Resource Area, a sludge-dumping site in the southeastern part of the county that is being converted into a park.

Still unclear is how the governor's proposal would affect Baltimore County's biggest brownfields site -- 388 acres of Bethlehem Steel Corp. land in Sparrows Point that the company promised to give the county in 1987 in exchange for eliminating an electricity tax.

The land was destined to become an industrial park, but the county never took title because of questions about liability over potential buried pollution.

For more than a year, state and federal officials have supposedly been negotiating an agreement over the issue with Bethlehem Steel but have kept county officials in the dark about the talks, said Robert L. Hannon, county economic development director.

Plans to sell the giant steelmaker's shipyard could also be stymied by lack of an agreement, Hannon suggested.

Quentin W. Banks, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the talks are progressing but refused to provide details.

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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