Local governments in the Washington area, often responding to neighborhood pressures, have aggravated costly energy and housing problems by adopting policies forcing much development to distant suburbs, according to a report from the Center for municipal and Metropolitan Research.
The report, written by the center's executive vice president, also forsees a significant slowdown in area economic growth during the 1980s.
The slowdowm is likely, center Executive Vice President Atlee Shidler said, because of major social trends and increasing competition between central metropolitan areas and the rapidly growing metropolitan fringe.
Even the rapid rise in gasoline prices is unlikely to reverse the outward trend, Shidler said, because of the wide gap between housing costs in the central and fringe areas.
"If the motropolitan area continues to spread out as it has in recent years," Shidler said, "I'm afraid we're going to have to settle for less of a number of things that we want -- clean air, clean water, energy conservation, transit use, convenient and affordable housing . . .
"To get these things without breaking the bank, we must capture more development in existing centers and especially Metro stops . . . ," he said.
"But too often that doesn't happen because neighborhood groups -- understandably -- are against development, and there is no constituency with a wider view advocating it."
Shidler's report is the first study published by the research center, which was formed last fall by the Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies and the D.C. Municipal Research Bureau. Shidler had been Washington Center President since 1971.
Since 1970, Shidler said, overall population growth has slowed sharply in Washington and surrounding jurisdictions that compose the official metropolitan area. But in 18 counties just outside this area, growth has been faster than ever.
This metropolitan fringe stretches from Frederic and Calvert counties in Maryland to Spotsylvania and Stafford counties in Virginia and Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West virgina.
These areas are on major highways leading from Washington, Shidler said, and increasingly are attracting people working in the District or its suburbs.
Between 1970 and 1977, population growth in this area increased 42 percent compared to the 1960s, while growth in the official metropolitan area fell by more than 60 percent.
Housing construction in the fringe more than doubled, he said, while the annual average of housing units built within the metropolitan area fell by more than a quater.
thus, since 1970, fringe conties have accounted for about one-third of all housing built in the Washington region, Shidler said, compared to just 15 percent during the 1960s.
This "big leap into places well beyond the already unbanized parts" of the area was partially caused by families' continued desires for space and privacy, he said. It was also helped by "skyrocketing housing prices" near Washington and opposition to development in the city and its nearby suburbs.
While this dispersion has reduced congestion, Shidler said, it has added to problems by:
Increasing gasoline consumption and reducing Metro ridership. "we simply must have development around certain key Metro stops," Shidler said. "otherwise, the financial burden [of the transit system] will be horrendous."
Making it more difficult for unemployed youth, particularly black males in the District, to find jobs. "the increasing number of new households in . . . fringe areas will inevitably attract jobs to those areas," he said.
Harming air quality, because residents of distant suburbs drive more than those in built-up areas. Shidler said the lower density of dispersed suburbs reduces dangerously high pollution in certain areas but raises the overall pollution level.
Drawing economic development away from the city and nearby suburbs.
During the 1970s, strong economic growth in the Washington area has been encouraged by four factors, Shidler said: the major increase in small new households, the expansion of professional and managerial j0bs, the increasing number of women in the labor force and the upward mobility of blacks.
These trends may "top out" or slow during the next few years, he said, leading to less econonic growth. Meanwhile, the increase of families living in the fringes means there will be weakened buying power and fewer jobs in the metropolitan area.
In the District, Shidler said, housing shortages and price rises have been intensified by rent control, which has vertually stopped apartment construction. This has increased pressure to renovate rowhouses, displacing many poor families who used to live in them, Shidler said.
Yesterday, Walter Scheiber -- executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments [COG] -- said the COG development plan adopted in 1977 calls for the concentrated development Shidler advocates.
Even though many neighborhood citizen groups may continue opposing the plan, Scheiber has he believes their protests will be "increasingly overridden by economic forces."
James O. Gibson, assistant city planning and development administrator, said local development has been limited by federal air and water pollution regulations and by neighborhood protests.
He added: "There are serious questions here whether to meet the goal of additional housing, you disrupt existing housing. There have to be sophisticated trade-offs."