ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening has one more tool in his fight to bridle suburban sprawl with the General Assembly passage of his measure to make it easier to rehabilitate older buildings.
The Senate voted 44-0 to give final approval Monday to a bill that establishes the Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code – a uniform code that streamlines a tangle of overlapping and conflicting local building codes.
The House passed the measure last week 115-20.
The statewide building code is part of Glendening’s 1997 Smart Growth campaign to manage growth and sprawl. Beefing up mass transit funding, renovating old schools and canceling road projects in some rural areas are among other components of Smart Growth.
Glendening lauded the legislative support. Although the bill still needs his signature, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion.
“The governor is glad to see the (General) Assembly has moved ahead and ensured that we will continue to invest in our older communities and preserve the environment at the same time,” said Raquel Guillory of the governor’s office.
Local jurisdictions that adopt the code unamended will be eligible for part of the $100 million Glendening has added to the Neighborhood Conservation Program and the $10 million he attached to the Rural Legacy Program in this year’s budget.
Under current building codes, it is “easier to build on a green field” than in older communities, package sponsor Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, has said. This legislation will “jumpstart” rehabilitation in deteriorating communities, he said.
Lawmakers opposed to the bill argue it creates an unnecessary bureaucracy and is unfair to local government.
“It adds a large bureaucracy where none is needed,” said Delegate Richard A. LaVay, R-Montgomery. The most “chilling” aspect of the bill, he said, is that it prohibits local amendments to the code.
If local jurisdictions want to amend the new code, he said, they will “fold like a cheap suit” because Glendening will be in control.
Environmental groups applaud the legislation as a small step toward ending suburban sprawl.
“It’s one of many steps needed to make up for 50 years of missteps,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “This bill makes it easier for critical redevelopment to happen.”
Businesses and property developers have complained of the “labyrinth” of building codes, said Mary Marsh, legislative chair for Maryland’s Sierra Club. “These bills will change that. They have no excuse now.”
The Maryland Association of Counties originally opposed the bill because it restricted funding to jurisdictions that amended the code, but now is supportive.
“That was mostly a matter of principle,” of taking away local discretion, said executive director David Bliden.
Amendments to the bill ensure that the advisory council planning the code will consider costs of implementing the code for local governments.
Bliden agreed local communities could benefit from a statewide building code.
“If the bill pans out for what it is purported to do, then that is good,” he said.
Glendening has submitted another proposal to make it easier to renovate vacant or underused buildings. The bill has passed all but one hurdle – the Senate -which is expected to pass that bill before the end of session.