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MAN BITES DOG. Sun rises in west. Environmental group embraces developer.

Which of the foregoing seems most unlikely? Well, none seems likely and some seem impossible short of a miracle.

Yet one occurred recently and should be applauded. That would be the one in which an environmental group -- 1,000 Friends of Maryland, in this case -- endorsed a developer, Stewart Greenebaum, in this case. He proposes to build about 1,200 housing units and several office buildings south of Columbia.

The Howard County Zoning Board may decide the issue next week. And its decision could have implications for zoning authorities throughout the region.

The Friends of Maryland's approval is based on prudent, big-picture thinking. If growth is to be controlled and limited to certain areas, then within those areas growth must be allowed to proceed.

If "green" groups want credibility -- to stop "bad" growth" -- they have to support planning. Smart Growth opponents and advocates take note.

When, as in this case, a county has marked an area for development, when it has put some of its quota of new housing and commercial construction in a certain area, the plan should be honored short of trespasses against law and common sense.

The Friends of Maryland went beyond endorsement. They want the project to be as dense as it can be, closer to the allowable limit of 3 units per acre. Under pressure from neighborhood groups opposing the development, Mr. Greenebaum has proposed to build 2.3 units per acre. The opponents prefer 2. County authorities would prefer something closer to 3.

The issue could be Sept. 20. The board should endorse the project, provided all safeguards are in place.

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