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ARE THE 1000 Friends of Maryland genuinely interested in Smart Growth? The group's opposition to S.B. 509 indicates that it may be more caught up in making an opportunistic political statement than actually advancing programs that would curb the state's uncontrolled sprawl.

The 1000 Friends gave three reasons for opposing the county's revitalization plans for Essex-Middle River:

Lack of public participation.

The displacement of low-income residents won't reduce the area's concentrated poverty.

Expanded condemnation authority is unnecessary.

Let's take these points one at a time.

First, it's true that County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger made a terrible blunder by not including the community in the preliminary revitalization plans. But that's correctable. He can -- and must -- include the public in the planning that is still necessary to revitalize this community.

Second, Mr. Ruppersberger's plan doesn't stop at removing some poor residents. It goes further and aims to build single-family houses designed to attract middle-income residents who might otherwise live in subdivisions built on Baltimore, Carroll or Harford County farmland.

Third, eminent domain is needed because it ensures the county will be able to acquire the necessary parcels. Condemnation might not come into play, but without the option to use it, a single property owner could hold up the area's redevelopment.

If 1000 Friends is to be true to its principles as an advocate of Smart Growth, it should change its position on S.B. 509.

The county's plans are closer to achieving the organization's purported goal -- preventing development from ravaging Maryland's farms, forests and open spaces -- than any other offered proposal.

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