Smart Growth short-circuited by dumb political moves


IT DIDN'T take long for the governor to turn his much-ballyhooed Smart Growth program into Dumb Growth.

What started as a fine attempt to rein in sprawl and pump life into struggling communities has been transformed by the governor into a politically tinged program.

Gov. Parris Glendening's decision to eliminate projects already in the planning stages -- most of which actually support Smart Growth -- has eroded political support.

Already, the governor's two fellow Board of Public Works members, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard Dixon, appear intent on reversing Mr. Glendening's decisions.

Starring role

The move makes sense only as political retribution or as a way to make Mr. Glendening look like the tough guy against the evil forces of development. It's no accident that on Sunday, Mr. Glendening presides over a meeting of the National Governors' Association on "Open Space and Smart Growth."

If Mr. Glendening was trying to look good in the eyes of other governors, he'll need swift public relations triage to hide his bungling.

Take his effort to kill a $32 million police training center at Springfield Hospital Center just outside Sykesville. The plan, he said, no longer meets Smart Growth criteria.

Yet it is the epitome of Smart Growth. The police training center is on the edge of a town eager for this sort of development. The site already has sewer, water and buildings that can be renovated.

It is adjacent to another part of the hospital grounds that could be annexed by Sykesville voters in a referendum today. Plans call for a state-town effort to convert 15 buildings into a college and business complex. How is the police training center incompatible with the state's even more intensive development effort next door?

Traffic problems

The governor complains that the police center will generate too much traffic. Instead, he proposes industrial or residential development -- which would create far more daily traffic.

To the governor, Springfield is a bucolic site. But if you drive a mile to the north, you encounter congested Liberty Road. To the south, plans call for another 1,400 homes. Interstate 70 is just a few miles further south.

Ironically, this is the same police training project the governor and lieutenant governor praised lavishly last September. Already, $16 million has been spent on a police driver-training course and a firing range there.

How did the same project suddenly turn into Dumb Growth?

Politics. The site is located in Carroll County, a hotbed of Republicanism. It's payback time.

Carroll countians also were told by the governor that a bypass around Manchester amounts to Dumb Growth. Yet commuter traffic is choking the lifeblood out of Manchester. Too bad: Bypasses, he informs us, are evil; they encourage sprawl.


A road won't spur haphazard development if the state builds a limited-access highway and demands local zoning restrictions. Now that would be Smart Growth.

Killing bypasses is the reverse of sensible land-use planning. The objective was to help revive towns, not sentence them to continuing decline.

Take a drive over to Brookeville in Montgomery County. This is a beautiful little village with 100 residents. It is filled with history dating back two centuries. Yet a major commuter road, Route 97, goes right through Brookeville, with historic homes snuggled along a sharp S-shaped curve.

Commuters barrel through Brookeville. It's killing the town. A one-mile bypass was on the state's road plans -- until Mr. Glendening needed another poster child for Smart Growth.

Now Brookeville has no hope of stemming the invasion of traffic every work day.

That's smart?

Lawmakers and the Board of Public Works will reverse some of these decisions. Instead of strengthening his Smart Growth program, the governor has done irreparable harm. He has planted seeds of doubt that could become impediments when future efforts are made to reduce sprawl in Maryland.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 2/17/99

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