Annapolis — Mayors from across the state on Thursday publicly embraced the governor’s Smart Growth initiative, an effort to revitalize urban neighborhoods and direct suburban growth.
At a Statehouse press conference, about 40 mayors joined Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s war on suburban sprawl, which he said destroys open spaces and drains resources from cities.
“Our mayors are on the front lines. They’ve witnessed the decline of their downtowns as corner drugstores and mom and pop grocery stores were shuttered, and people were lured away by the bright lights of suburban shopping centers and malls,” the governor said in a prepared statement.
The mayors hailed from virtually every part of the state, from small towns like Washington Grove in Montgomery County to the host city of Annapolis.
“We support the governor seeking to stop sprawl,” said Bowie Mayor Gary Allen. “I thank him for boldly stepping forward to address the growth trends that will shape Maryland’s future.”
The Smart Growth plan would preserve wildlands and farms by channeling new growth to cities and designated areas that already have planned schools, roads, police and water systems.
The plan would deny state funds to for public services in areas that lie outside designated Smart Growth zones. A local government could still approve construction on undeveloped land, but could get no state money for it.
Glendening was careful to point out that the program does not overrule local zoning authority. It simply gives localities economic incentives to “go in the right direction,” he said.
Allen and the other mayors, both rural and urban, seemed to agree.
“This proposal strikes a real balance in protecting local government and authority while providing an appropriate state incentive for concentrating development,” Allen said.
The plan also pledges more money to preserve farms and natural “greenbelts” of undeveloped land. It would strengthen the state “Right to Farm” law that protects farmers against nuisance suit from neighbors.
“If you’re going to preserve the farmlands, you’re going to have to curb growth,” said Margo Bailey, mayor of Chestertown in Kent County.
“When you lose big chunks of farms to suburban development, it’s more expensive for farmers to operate. It’s going to raise the cost of everyone’s food. It’s got to turn around,” she said.
The mayors and the governor were also concerned about urban blight as residents flee for the suburbs. The plan includes a pilot program that would encourage residents to buy homes near their jobs.
“We have a lot of older homes on the Eastern Shore. If we can’t get someone in there to rehab them, then we’ve got this blight. People drive through your town and say `Eeww,’ Bailey said.
Glendening also spoke of a loss of community. He said neighbors living on isolated two-acre subdivisions often do not connect. He spoke fondly of his own University Park neighborhood, where residents used to keep track of wayward children exploring on bicycles. “Smart Growth is not about programs and about amending laws and about the budget. It is about people. It is about families, about communities, about children and what we want for them,” he said. -30-