Glendening Growth Plan A Hot Topic
By Michael Abramowitz
Like a runner on a victory lap, Gov. Parris N. Glendening has toured Maryland in recent months, basking in praise for his efforts to curb suburban sprawl.
But when he showed up in Baltimore recently to offer yet more thoughts on what he calls "Smart Growth," some naysayers got in on the act.
As Glendening laid out his vision for several hundred local officials and planners gathered at the Convention Center, a handful of people stood in silent protest in the back, waving signs that proclaimed: "Stop the ICC."
After Glendening asked, "Where do we go from here?" one protester shouted, "Cancel the Outer Beltway!"
For a determined band of civic activists trying to derail a massive highway project connecting northern Prince George's County with central Montgomery County, it was one more opportunity to take their case directly to the man who controls the state purse strings.
But the episode also underscored the competing pressures Glendening will face as he tries to convert his Smart Growth rhetoric into an effective weapon against suburban expansion.
Glendening has long supported the Intercounty connector as a way to ease congestion on the Capital Beltway, yet many environmentalists and community activists say the road would encourage the sprawl he says he wants to curtail.
"This is at odds with Smart Growth, and he's trying to promote himself as the `Smart Growth governor,' " complained Barney J. Evans, a Silver Spring resident who is among those fighting the proposed east-west road project.
Glendening takes such comments in stride. Since he began his campaign last year to limit suburban sprawl, he joked last week, "everyone is justifying support or opposition to projects in the name of Smart Growth."
The governor said his administration is reviewing its options but added that the state cannot put its collective "head in the sand" about traffic congestion.
"You still need alternatives," Glendening said.
"You can't live forever with the pollution and the harm from 25-mile backups on the Beltway."
The ICC is just the most immediate example of what could prove to be a string of development and transportation cases that are watched closely by environmentalists as tests of Glendening's commitment.
Another such case is the Chapman's Landing project in Southern Maryland, where a developer wants to turn a largely wooded area along the Potomac River into a planned community of 4,600 homes and 2.2 million square feet of retail space.
Under legislation promoted by Glendening and approved in April by the General Assembly, the Maryland government will spend housing, transportation and other public works dollars only in designated areas in and around population centers.
The legislation automatically defined municipalities, areas within the Baltimore and Washington beltways, and certain other zones as Smart Growth areas; counties will define other areas by the time the law takes effect in October 1998.
Advocates say a carrot-and-stick approach will encourage builders to redevelop existing communities and avoid the kind of unrestrained development that has gobbled up thousands of acres of green space in Maryland and elsewhere.
In promoting the Smart Growth initiative, Glendening and his aides have stressed that they are not trying to reverse past development decisions.
On both Chapman's Landing and the ICC, many key state and county decisions were made before Glendening took office in 1995, and even critics say the projects probably will not be affected directly by the Smart Growth legislation.
Glendening said both projects highlight the bumpy transition that will occur inevitably as the state tries to reconcile the new Smart Growth philosophy with past development decisions.
He noted that the ICC has been on planning books for nearly 50 years and said housing, job and development patterns in Montgomery were "all based on the premise that there would be some kind of road there."
"The whole situation is very frustrating," Glendening said. "We're articulating a vision for the future in which we changed the basic rules of the game relative to reducing sprawl."
But environmentalists say Glendening will have ample opportunities during the next few months to influence the course of both projects and show that his actions fit his rhetoric on Smart Growth.
At Chapman's Landing, for instance, the state must approve a wetlands permit before the project goes forward.
Many environmentalists are urging the administration to use the review process to force a reevaluation of the project, which they say will destroy hundreds of acres of green space and wildlife habitats.
Legend Development Co. says it is developing the project in as environmentally sound a manner as possible.
As for the ICC, the state is nearing an October decision on which of several proposed routes would be most effective in easing traffic and minimizing damage to the environment.
Glendening also has decisions to make about how much state money to pour into a project that could cost as much as $1.1 billion.
The two projects highlight an axiom used by both sides in the debate.
Like beauty, they say, smart growth is in the "eyes of the beholder."
Administration officials argue that the ICC will help ensure the vitality of job and population centers around Gaithersburg and Laurel, the two areas to be linked through the ICC.
"This road is intimately tied in with the principles of smart growth," said Maryland Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead.
Neil J. Pedersen, the chief highway planner for the state, said one of the principles behind Glendening's concept is to provide an infrastructure to support areas where growth is planned.
If traffic congestion is not dealt with through such routes as the ICC, he added, it will encourage businesses and residents to relocate in areas beyond existing development.
Pedersen said the state will not permit private driveways to gain access to the ICC, which he said "discourages development from taking place along the road."
Such comments have been greeted with skepticism from the alliance of environmentalists and community activists who have battled the Intercounty Connector for many years. They say the road, like others before it, would bring unwanted development while making only a small dent into the congestion problem.
"[Glendening] has always had strong support for the ICC, and I don't understand it," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, the regional program director for Clean Water Action. "It does not solve the state problem of congestion. It will cost more than a billion dollars. It will destroy neighborhoods, valuable habitats, parks. It is literally a broad swath of destruction through Montgomery County for little. It is absolutely counter to what is smart growth."
Friends in the environmental community warn that Glendening will have to pick his way carefully through the issue. The governor has been wooing the environmental community in recent months, and he got high marks from many for his Smart Growth plan. But that record could be undone, some say, with actions on the ICC or Chapman's Landing. "The ICC and Chapman's Landing are likely to be the litmus tests for some folks," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), a leading environmentalist in the General Assembly. "I think there are a lot of other important environmental issues. Certainly [the ICC] is a big one, a billion-dollar project. But I think you have to look at the issue in context, and the context is pretty good."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company