Gov. Parris N. Glendening came within four miles of Carroll County yesterday, and local officials used the occasion to mend fences, hoping to improve relations between the conservative Republican county and the Democratic leadership.
At a rustic church in Upperco in Baltimore County, the governor awarded several counties $37 million in Rural Legacy and Program Open Space funds, money targeted for protecting country landscapes statewide. He gave Carroll $1.5 million for the preservation of more than 2,500 acres along Little Pipe Creek at the county's western end.
Carroll officials thanked the governor profusely and asked for more preservation money. The atmosphere was downright jovial, a marked contrast to recent strained relations between the county and state.
County officials have found themselves at odds with the governor in the past few months over land-use and water issues. Glendening stunned them last week during his address to the Maryland Municipal League convention in Ocean City, when he singled out Carroll as the county that "consistently resists Smart Growth," his initiative to control sprawl.
The commissioners believe the state has ignored their efforts to relieve water shortages in South Carroll, the county's most populous area. The state has withheld a permit that would allow construction of a well to help serve the area's 30,000 residents.
A spirit of camaraderie marked the gathering at Mount Zion Methodist Church. Commissioner Donald I. Dell invited the governor to visit Carroll. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she has "always felt Smart Growth was a good thing."
Against a background of rolling green hills - nearly 20,000 acres of the largest, contiguous block of preserved land on the East Coast, Glendening praised leaders from several counties, including Carroll, for cooperating with the state's efforts to fight sprawl.
Maryland is the only state in the nation "to see more land preserved on an annual basis than lost to development," he said.
Governor draws laughs
He asked local jurisdictions to "get serious about zoning." Glendening criticized Carroll leaders last year when they voted to rezone for residential use a 145-acre farm near Woodbine. But yesterday he won a few laughs when he said, "I know zoning is a local matter. I would never get involved."
Saving land from bulldozers is not a new concept in Carroll County, which ranks among the highest nationally for agricultural preservation. Carroll has about 300,000 acres of farmland and has set a goal of preserving at least one-third of them.
"We saved 3,000 acres just this year and have averaged 2,000 acres annually since 1993," said Bill Powel, director of the county's farmland preservation program.
The grant awarded yesterday brought the total to nearly $4 million that Carroll has received since Rural Legacy began in 1998.
"We have led the nation in farm preservation for years," said Gouge, who was seated near the governor. "We were moving ahead with it for many years before the rest of the state and taking care of critical farms."
Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the governor is "sending a strong message that we need to work together. Julia is really trying."
Dell, who remained in the audience until the end of the news conference, came last to the podium "to toot my own horn." In 1978, Dell, a ninth-generation farmer, said he was the first in the state to receive a check for agricultural preservation, Maryland's initial effort to preserve farmland.
Dell then extended a handshake and asked the governor to make next year's presentation in Carroll County.
"I might do that," answered the governor, but added acceptance would be predicated on good land-use policies.
Steven C. Horn, county director of planning, said Carroll is the only county that has spent all its first-year Rural Legacy grant - about $1.5 million - and added hundreds of acres to the program. The governor had warned counties to "use the money in a reasonable time or we'll redistribute it."
Horn said, "I was heartened to hear that counties that have used the money for preservation will be rewarded in future years."
The tide may be turning in Carroll's favor, said Horn. The county received the amount of grant money it requested. The commissioners are so enthused about Rural Legacy they are about to suggest a second area for funding, Horn said.