BEFORE recommending that a $32 million police training center planned near Sykesville be built in a more urbanized area, we asked ourselves: Is there a better location? If we put that center somewhere else, could it more directly improve the quality of life in our established communities?
We concluded that it would be more in line with Smart Growth objectives to locate the classroom/residential project in an established community.
The site, on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center, is far removed from any business or residence. It would have almost no beneficial effect on Carroll County, but it clearly could have a lasting beneficial effect in a more urbanized location.
If the project is built at Springfield, it will be almost invisible to Carroll County residents. Those who would be trained there would obtain their meals, lodging and, in some cases, even their fuel at the center, providing little or no economic spinoff to surrounding communities. Few, if any, new jobs would be created locally.
As a state project, it would provide no tax benefit to the county. But if the beautiful Springfield site, which is already served by sewer, water and roads, were to be aggressively marketed for industrial or residential development, Carroll County could develop sorely needed jobs and a tax base adjacent to Sykesville and consistent with Smart Growth goals.
The only direct effect the classroom facility would have on the residents of Carroll and Howard counties is traffic congestion. The facility would generate more than 100,000 new vehicle trips a year, most on already congested two-lane roads and all of it adding to the air pollution the state is trying to reduce.
More troublesome (because of that additional congestion) is the pressure that would mount to widen those roads. That, in turn, would open the area to even more sprawl development, more loss of farmland and more traffic.
If the facility is built in a more visible, more populated area -- especially in an urban revitalization area that is suffering from crime -- the surrounding community will benefit from the deterrent effect of having 500 or more law enforcement officers coming into the community every day.
This would be consistent with our community policing approach: Get police back to where they are needed the most, driving through the communities, walking through the neighborhoods.
One final point: It is true that our law enforcement community will be slightly inconvenienced by splitting its indoor and outdoor training operations between two locations. While that is unfortunate, it is hardly an insurmountable problem -- mostly an issue of scheduling and logistics.
Once any government facility is built, the citizens must live with that decision. Just because we thought differently about this project in the past is no excuse to squander the opportunity now to put the facility where it will do the most good.
I will designate a new site for the training facility within 90 days. I am confident that the new location will enable us not only to train the best law enforcement and correctional officers in the country, but also to use the training facility as a catalyst to help revitalize a community that needs the help.
If we are to preserve our quality of life for future generations, we must begin to make decisions now that will change our growth patterns in the future. This action will do that, which is why I believe it is truly a Smart Growth decision.
Parris N. Glendening is governor of Maryland.
Pub Date: 2/12/99