The Post has printed several articles, the most recent on Jan. 27 {Metro}, that portray the proposed Barnes Commission legislation as strict growth management and environmental protection legislation. That portrayal is inaccurate; the Barnes bill in its present form is neither protective of the environment, nor would it manage growth other than to ensure much more of it throughout Maryland.

The Barnes bill, if passed in its original form, would require that growth in Maryland be placed in designated growth centers with minimum densities of 3.5 dwelling units per acre -- far greater than that of Columbia (2.2 dwellings per acre average), for example.

Land outside the growth centers would be zoned for low-density development, such as one house per 20 acres. But -- and this is a key point -- every five years the growth centers would be reevaluated and expanded as required to accommodate new growth. The low-density land would be converted to high-density as needed for more growth. In other words, the Barnes bill would essentially ratchet-up density in Maryland and then successively expand high-density development without limit. There is no provision in the bill that requires permanent preservation of sensitive areas, rural land or any type of open space. Under the bill, the Maryland of 2050 could be one big development.

Even the basic premise of the Barnes bill -- that suburban sprawl is environmentally harmful -- is wrong. Consider that during one of the most intense periods of sprawl development in Maryland, 1985-90, the quality of the Chesapeake Bay improved. Likewise, in Howard County during that same period, the most intense years for large-lot residential development (three-acre-lot zoning), the quality of the Little Patuxent River improved. Low-density sprawl development can actually be environmentally beneficial, because the adverse effects of development are spread out and diluted instead of concentrated as they would be under the Barnes bill. The bill starts with a wrong assumption and predictably ends up with wrong recommendations.

Maryland needs good growth management and strong environmental protection. The Barnes bill would provide exactly the opposite, and it should not be passed into law without a major rewriting. JOHN W. TAYLOR Highland