Retribution disguised as Smart Growth planning


WE'VE BEEN over this before: the governor's skewed vision of Smart Growth that seems to stop at the border of Carroll County and at the border of common sense. Now he's positively myopic in his impetuous decisions.

By Parris N. Glendening's definition, Springfield Hospital Center is a Smart Growth area, eligible for state redevelopment of the complex. But it's apparently not smart-enough Smart Growth for a statewide police training center.

Real Smart Growth must occur in the urban areas that gave Mr. Glendening his re-election victory last November. Places where the governor can claim a big economic impact, where classrooms of police students are supposed to deter local crime. (With dormitories, food service and gas on site, under the current design for a police training facility, there would be no potential local economic boost for any area.)

In any case, Carroll's rock-rib Republican and rural-suburban character is nowhere on the Democrat's development map.

Never mind

Never mind that the state -- at Mr. Glendening's urging four years ago -- has spent $20 million in planning and starting construction of the facility on the Springfield complex.

Never mind that the project was 12 years in the planning, targeted for state land.

Never mind that the Springfield site is conveniently located for the bulk of 25,000 law enforcement and correctional officers in Maryland.

Never mind that the Springfield mental health complex, laced with a network of connecting roads and dozens of existing buildings, has been in state use for a century. And that 2,500 patients, plus twice as many staff members, were on the premises at one time, without overtaxing the facilities, including sewer and water.

Never mind that the Glendening campaign last summer pledged to complete the project at Springfield. Or that several of his top officials opposed the hasty reversal.

Never mind that workers were renovating four buildings at the site at year's end, including costly and dangerous asbestos removal. Test borings and soil samples were taken for planned new buildings in the training complex, designed to serve as many as 700 officers a day.

Never mind the inconvenience, and possibly expanded environmental damage, that results from splitting the driver and firearms training facilities (at Springfield) from the main academic/administration buildings to be placed elsewhere.

Entranced by the national publicity for his anti-sprawl programs, Mr. Glendening wanted a dramatic example of Smart Growth decisions to begin his second four-year term. A project in the pipeline that he could stop, on putative principle, was even better.

And, to add to the fun, how about a project in a jurisdiction traditionally hostile to the programs and person of Mr. Glendening? So he drew a line in the sand at Springfield, where the completed driver course is used almost daily and where the firing range is near completion.

The project for the full statewide training center will go ahead, with a completion date of 2002. Only it won't be at Springfield. And it won't cost taxpayers directly, since the project is being funded from court fines and fees (plus federal money).

Governor Smart Growth hasn't found an alternate site. He emphasizes that the main thing is stopping construction at Springfield.

Geography lesson

"Something like that should never be in the middle of Carroll County," fumed the college professor turned state pol. He taught political science, not geography, for which parents should be grateful.

Springfield is in the southeasternmost corner of Carroll, abutting Howard County and about a mile from Baltimore County. It has a working mental health campus, 130 acres recently annexed by the town of Sykesville for economic redevelopment and the 800 acres committed for building the law enforcement training center.

Glendening minions added insult to injury by opining that Carroll would be better served by promoting private development in that area. That would yield more taxes for the county and Sykesville. But would that profit-driven development be better for containing sprawl than a state-controlled facility with vast open space buffers?

The stench of petty political retribution hangs like a shroud over the Springfield training center decision. No one in the administration admits to hearing that payback argument. But the shameful record speaks for itself.

The governor last week also decreed that the long-planned Westminster and Manchester bypass projects did not meet his Smart Growth rules for further funding. The Hampstead bypass passed Smart Growth muster, but the long publicized existence of the endangered bog turtle there will forever block that project.

The governor is giving growth control a bad name. It's political patronage, not smart growth.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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