Undercutting Smart Growth; Governor's reversal: Abrupt change on plan to use Carroll site for police training is unwise.


IT'S HARD to take Gov. Parris N. Glendening seriously on his anti-sprawl Smart Growth philosophy when he abruptly cancels in midstream, after 12 years of planning and more than $20 million invested, construction of a statewide law enforcement training center in southeast Carroll County.

The governor would place the center in a yet-unnamed, more urban area. The site, on 70 acres of the former Springfield Hospital Center, meets state guidelines for Smart Growth, the administration concedes. But location elsewhere in the state would be preferable and stimulate more economic activity, Mr. Glendening argues.

Pulling the plug on Springfield at this late date, with a driver training course completed and a sophisticated firearms range nearly built, is unwise. Detailed plans for the remaining elements of the complex -- including academic centers, correctional officer training facilities and dormitories -- are ready. Changing sites means delays and higher costs, and perhaps more environmental impact.

Mr. Glendening cited the Springfield center as an example of Smart Growth at a groundbreaking three years ago. Last fall, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend publicly pledged completion of the project in four years.

But the governor said he took a stand against building the rest of the center at Springfield to underline his commitment to "smarter" Smart Growth. Find a better site, he ordered.

That will be difficult.

Springfield is a century-old, state-owned complex, with dozens of buildings and roads and sewer/water facilities. Some 2,500 patients and twice as many employees once used the campus, without overburdening nearby roads. It is centrally located, near major state prisons and Maryland's larger county police forces. Trainees could sleep and eat on site.

Mr. Glendening denies that friction with Carroll's Republican leaders influenced his decision. Yet he fairly bristles at what he considers the county's lack of commitment on Smart Growth. "Carroll County has not been very forceful in dealing with sprawl," he said.

Sadly, the governor's turnabout raises suspicions of political misuse of the Smart Growth program and could set back broad support for his landmark effort to contain sprawl.

For Maryland, that would be a decidedly unsmart development.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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