Three years after Gov. Parris N. Glendening introduced Maryland to the term "Smart Growth," he is pushing the next phase in his campaign to fight sprawl, a set of measures to encourage redevelopment and investment in existing communities.
Legislation proposing the so-called "Smart Codes" was introduced in the General Assembly this week, becoming the centerpiece of Glendening's environmental agenda this year. It would pave the way for a new statewide rehabilitation code, designed to make modernizing buildings easier and cheaper, and model development regulations for counties to adopt if they choose.
Some local government officials have expressed concern about the state's intrusion into what has traditionally been their domain--the setting of building rules and regulations. But others say the initiative could help stir redevelopment in neglected urban areas and give developers less reason to convert farmland and forests into more subdivisions.
"I think it's a logical next step, and I think that it will be a very useful tool," said Teresa Milio Birge, director of government relations for the Maryland Municipal League, which represents the state's towns and cities.
Local governments won't be forced to embrace the changes, but Glendening said that when Maryland officials make certain funding decisions, the state would show favor to those who adopt the new rules
For instance, the governor is adding $17 million a year to the Neighborhood Conservation Program, a streetscape and roadway-improvements initiative, and the new money would be set aside for counties that adopt the rehabilitation code without amendments. He plans to do the same with $10 million being added to the Rural Legacy Program to preserve undeveloped countryside.
Those incentives are likely to be a point of contention as the legislation works its way through the General Assembly in the coming months. County government officials said they should not be punished if they decide the codes don't make sense locally. And some local officials are concerned that Glendening's initiative will mean added regulations and added expense.
"There's going to be a real debate about it," said Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden (R-Howard). "There are going to be lots of questions about whether this is just going to be another state mandate."
Supporters say Smart Codes would make revitalization easier and in turn help cities and towns rid themselves of run-down or vacant buildings.
"The proposed Maryland Rehabilitation Code is going to be wonderful," said Katie Hearn, who chaired a state task force that helped Glendening draft the new rules.
Hearn is development director at Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse, a Baltimore-based company that specializes in reuse of existing and historic buildings. She said the proposed code would make it possible for developers to do the kind of piecemeal renovation that is difficult or impossible to do now.
"If you're a building owner in downtown Annapolis with, for instance, a retail tenant on the first floor, it's very difficult for you to put that retail tenant in without bringing the entire building up to current code, even if your upper levels are unoccupied," she said. The proposed code would change that. It would establish five categories of rehabilitation work, each with its own set of requirements that toughen as the amount of work increases. Simple repair work would require an owner to make few additional upgrades, but completely changing a building, converting it from office space to housing, for instance, would involve more stringent building requirements.
Counties would be able to amend the code if they saw fit. One change might come in western counties, where officials may see a need to require sturdier roofs to handle heavy snowfalls.
The proposal is based on a model rehabilitation code developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Association of Homebuilders, and a rehabilitation code adopted in 1997 by New Jersey, the only state with such rules.
Last year, Glendening appointed the 32-member task force to study how building codes and development regulations could promote Smart Growth, which seeks to contain new construction by steering development to already established areas. The group included developers, county and municipal representatives, fire officials, environmentalists and state legislators.
According to the group's report, a year after adopting the code in New Jersey, investment in existing buildings in Trenton, Newark and Jersey City had increased 40, 60 and 80 percent, respectively.
"That's what we want to do in the older communities here," said John W. Frece, the governor's special assistant for Smart Growth.
Glendening's legislation would give the task of writing the rehabilitation code, using the task force's recommendations, to the state Department of Housing and Community Development and a new Rehabilitation Code Council.
In his State of the State address last week, Glendening called upon local governments to have the "courage to take the next step" and adopt Smart Codes.
"Right now, it is easier to build out there somewhere than to invest in existing communities like our beloved Annapolis," he said.
Across the state, popular spots such as historic downtown Annapolis and Main Street in Ellicott City couldn't be replicated in most places. Their tight mix of residences atop or beside storefronts, set within yards of narrower-than-normal streets would not pass muster with most local zoning officials.
"It was no one thing, it was a whole variety of things," Frece said. Developers "were stymied when they tried to do in-fill," that is, building something new in an established neighborhood.
But others worry that the Smart Codes proposals are too developer-friendly, and would trample local authority.
John Woolums, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, is concerned that the state is "using this code as a vehicle to sort of undermine local autonomy."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) is reserving judgment until he sees the still-to-come details of the new code. But he likes the idea.
"It makes sense," he said. "It's sort of a natural extension of the Smart Growth program."
CAPTION: Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to change building codes as one way to promote the 'Smart Growth' agenda in Maryland.