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Md. Environmental Advocates Say Sprawl Continues

Environment Maryland, one of the state's biggest environmental groups, concludes in a study released today that despite passage of the 1997 Smart Growth Act, which tried to reduce suburban sprawl and halt the decline of the Chesapeake Bay, development patterns haven't changed over a decade.

"Our land consumption is the same," policy associate Mike Sherling said.

The study's release during the General Assembly's 90-day session highlights the concerns of environmental advocates over Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposals to overhaul the 1997 law, which is widely viewed as having failed to curb growth or at least direct it into dense areas near public transit.

The governor unveiled his agenda at an Annapolis news conference in January, following the recommendations of a task force he appointed to study growth trends and policies. His bills would reverse a court ruling that freed local officials from having to follow their own master plans when approving development projects; add new goals to the state planning law; and require local governments to track more information on how their communities are developing.

But the bills do not call for new mandates, limits on sprawl or penalties for communities that approve projects outside the areas reserved for dense development.

Many advocates have signed on instead to legislation introduced by Sen. David
Harrington (D-Prince George's) and Del. Stephen Lafferty (D-Baltimore County).

The "Visions and Performance Standards" law would require localities to show state officials a plan that meet environmental, transportation, housing and other goals--and impose deadlines for meeting them. If they're not met, the Maryland Department of the Environment would have to deny approval of permits for a project that's out of compliance.

"The bill provides accountability," Sherling said. "It introduces those teeth that have been lacking for so long."

By Lisa Rein  |  March 10, 2009; 4:11 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , Lisa Rein  
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