Conservation Group Warns Growth Will Transform Eastern Shore

Associated Press
Wednesday, June 6, 2007; 4:00 PM

The Eastern Shore will be transformed by unprecedented growth in the next two decades, with more than 70,000 new homes and 150,000 new residents coming to the largely rural region, a conservation group warned Wednesday.

Development over the next 23 years will roughly equal development on the Shore in the past four centuries, according to a report from the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, titled "The State of the Shore on Growth."

"This report really drives home the runaway development that is facing us over the next 25 years, that could irreversibly alter the Eastern Shore landscape that we know and love," said Rob Etgen, the group's executive director. "Managing the growth that is headed our way is the only way to make sure that the Eastern Shore remains a unique and special place.

The report projects that 215,000 acres will be developed between 2007 and 2030. From 1607 to 2007, an estimated 235,000 acres were developed. That means by 2030, 450,000 total acres will be developed -- about one of every five acres on the Shore.

The report also notes that the population increase will have a huge environmental impact.

"Across the board, people's demands on the environment continue growing faster than population," the report says.

The group is trying to spur leaders of six upper Shore counties -- Caroline, Kent, Cecil, Queen Anne's, Dorchester, and Talbot -- to enact stricter growth policies. Those counties signed an agreement in 2002 that called for protecting 50 percent of land outside designated growth areas from development and for driving 50 percent of all development into such growth areas.

Success in meeting those goals has been mixed, the report says. All counties have guided more than half of new growth into the areas set aside for it, but none has managed to preserve 50 percent of the open space that hasn't been targeted for development.

Caroline, Kent and Queen Anne's counties have so far approved a stricter agreement that calls for putting at least 80 percent of development in designated growth areas and establishing annual caps on growth.

Those benchmarks are "very achievable," said Queen Anne's County Commissioner Gene Ransom III.

"The Eastern Shore is a rural area. It should stay rural," Ransom said. "I don't want it to look like 'Anyplace USA."'

© 2007 The Associated Press