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Study calls Md. smart growth a flop
"The incentives are not strong enough," Glendening said in an interview. "I agree. But property rights are a heated issue. I don't believe the political realities allow you to go to a [stronger] system."
Since smart growth passed in Maryland, Glendening has become a leading ambassador for the concept and consults with government officials across the country. His vision for the state, meanwhile, has run into a number of realities, land-use experts say.
State spending on transportation has ebbed and flowed depending on the philosophy of administrations in Annapolis and on budgets.
Glendening's successor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), eliminated the job of smart growth secretary, which had been a Cabinet-level level position under Glendening. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) revived the office, but budget shortfalls have hampered state investment in smart-growth development. A task force he appointed is studying strategies to strengthen the law, and he issued an executive order last week directing state agencies to pursue space for offices and laboratories near Metro and MARC stations.
"A lot of us would like to have more capital dollars to make the [smart-growth areas] more attractive to build in," said Richard E. Hall, the state's planning secretary.
Additionally, neighbors of smart-growth projects often oppose them as being too big or too dense, as planners in Montgomery are finding as they try to remake White Flint with high-rises. Developers get a bigger payoff when they build identical homes on empty land, rather than complex mixed-use redevelopment of older neighborhoods or retail areas. And as things stand, if a developer pays for a road or sewer line where he wants to build, the state can't stop it.
Neighborhoods that have continued the pattern of sprawl include Cheswicke Lane, on 230 acres in southeastern Prince George's, where 30 homes were built between 2005 and 2006 on lots ranging from three to 11 acres. Or Schaeffer Farm in Germantown, a 75-acre cow pasture where 50 homes rose on one-third- to one-half-acre lots between 2005 and 2008.
Single-family homes and townhouses are scattered on ever-larger lots in areas designated for dense, compact building, as lots outside those areas shrink, the study concludes. "The number of parcels developed, the acres of land developed and the average size [of lots] are all moving in the wrong direction," it says.
Responding to demand
Local planners acknowledge that their counties continue to approve scattered developments, in part because their growth plans have allowed it. "How did it happen?" asked John Funk III, a Prince George's planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. "Because it can happen." Cheswicke Lane "is definitely not urban," he acknowledged. But the developer met all the requirements for road and other improvements.
In Montgomery, Schaeffer Farm was approved because there was a demand, Planning Director Rollin Stanley said. The local land-use plan allows estate homes. And politicians "have voters to report to," he said, meaning that many of them oppose dense development.
Both counties are reviewing their long-range growth plans and are concluding that clusters of homes, offices and shops around public transit are a priority. Stanley called the approach "an evolution of Maryland's smart-growth legislation."
"We're still paving over the state at a very, very disheartening rate," said Dru-Schmidt Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental group. "But if you continue to allow low-density sprawling development, then any developer in their right mind would say, 'This will be lucrative,' whereas smart growth is going to be complicated and expensive."