ANNAPOLIS – Curbing suburban sprawl under Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s Smart Growth plan could save taxpayers $2 billion dollars over the next 15 years, the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club says.
In a report released Thursday, the environmental group argues that development that eats up rural land and requires counties to provide expensive services is “hazardous to Maryland taxpayers’ pocketbooks” and a serious environmental threat.
“More sewage plants, schools, libraries and other improvements must be built to serve the new spread-out communities…Such inefficiencies lead to higher costs to educate a child or purify our water,” the report said.
The report endorses “Smart Growth,” a centerpiece of Glendening’s 1997 legislative agenda. That plan is designed to curb suburban sprawl, preserve wildlands, channel development to urban areas and revitalize existing neighborhoods.
Using numbers from a Maryland Office of Planning report, the Sierra Club said that compact growth could save counties and taxpayers 20 percent in public construction costs.
“We obviously emphasized the economic costs of sprawl, because we thought that hadn’t been done before. There’s a lot of material on the environmental impact,” said Janet Pelley, a science writer and the report’s primary author.
Ron Young, deputy director of the Maryland Office of Planning, said focusing on the economic costs of building in suburban areas was a good way to grab attention.
“People have tried to isolate environmental issues — they say, `forget those greenies over there’ — but this issue isn’t like that. It’s a social issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a Bay issue, it’s an air issue,” he said.
The Sierra Club also gave 14 counties “Ostrich Awards” because it said they had not adequately studied the costs of surburban sprawl to taxpayers.
“When it comes to finding out how much it costs to provide services to new development, most Maryland counties prefer to stick their heads in the sand,” the report said.
The counties that made the list were: Allegany, Baltimore County, Calvert, Caroline, Dorchester, Garrett, Harford, Kent, Prince George’s, Somerset, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester.
The 14 counties were singled out because they had not studied whether tax revenue from new development can pay for the public cost of roads and schools, according to a fall 1996 survey conducted by the Sierra Club.
A study by the Carroll County Board of Planning cited in the report found that for every dollar brought in by taxes, it cost counties $1.22 to provide services for residential areas, 55 cents for commercial buildings and 47 cents for farmland or open space.
“I think it’s a legitimate issue,” said Stephen Del Giudice, chair of the Prince George’s County Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee.
His office plans to commit $100,000 at the end of January to fund a study that will begin to do the economic analysis the Sierra Club report recommended.
“Residential housing requires more services, and industrial areas need less. There’s an imbalance in this county that needs to be addressed,” Del Giudice said.
George F. Harrison, spokesperson for Harford County, said that while Harford had not commissioned an outside study, officials there have been tracking the costs of suburban sprawl for years.
Harrison said the county had successfully directed 80 percent of new growth to a designated “development envelope” and had managed to preserve thousands of acres of rural land. He disputed the dart from the Sierra Club.
“I find it extraordinary to believe because I thought we had been ahead of the curve,” he said.