ANNAPOLIS – Smart Growth will top Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s agenda when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes in January, spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said Wednesday.
The emphasis will be on putting teeth into existing anti-sprawl Smart Growth programs, Guillory said, but she did not rule out the possibility of new initiatives.
Until then, the governor’s office will build on established Smart Growth programs, coordinating various state departments through the newly established Office of Smart Growth. The issue was elevated to Cabinet status on July 1.
Now that the programs have been around for a couple of years, the governor expects counties to use the Smart Growth resources they are given, said John W. Frece, communications director for the Office of Smart Growth.
This year, the state cut off additional funding for some counties that failed to use all their Smart Growth allocation, Frece said. Next year, counties that fail to use their money may see it go to other jurisdictions.
“I think Smart Growth in general is the priority for the governor,” Frece said. “It affects almost every department of the state government.”
Department heads and the governor’s staff are just starting to discuss budget and legislative issues, and plans will not be finalized until November or December, Frece said.
The General Assembly meets for 90 days beginning Jan. 9.
Glendening launched the Smart Growth program in 1997, to combat sprawl across the state. The Smart Growth initiative has expanded to cover a range of issues from promoting land trust programs to steering development toward urban areas with established infrastructure rather than rural areas.
Smart Growth’s central programs are: “Priority Funding Areas” that limit state infrastructure funding to specifically designated areas, “Live Near Your Work,” which offers cash incentives to workers buying homes in certain older neighborhoods and the “Rural Legacy Program,” which promotes the conservation of farm and forest lands.
For example, when the University of Maryland considered opening a new campus in Hagerstown, the governor’s office stepped in and pushed for restoring a downtown site rather than building a new campus on the city’s outskirts.
Smart Growth has been more aggressively promoted throughout the state since July, when Glendening established the Office of Smart Growth, appointed its Special Secretary Harriet Tregoning, and named the new secretary of the Department of Planning, Roy Kienitz.
Recent actions by the Department of Planning reflect that. To intervene in local land-use issues, the department is using a 1974 law allowing it to become a party in land-use decisions and to file a formal statement expressing its views regarding the economic or environmental impact.
The state cannot veto the projects, Frece said. Instead, it can use the power of the purse to sway developers and local officials to its position.
For example, plans to build a Wal-Mart store near Chestertown, in Kent County, were rejected by Kent County planning commissioners with the support of the state.
Wal-Mart is appealing the decision in Kent County Circuit Court, state planning spokeswoman Kristen Forsyth said.
In previous legislative sessions, Glendening has focused on education goals, gun control and gay rights.
The spotlight on Smart Growth has not always been welcome. The governor has declined to comment on reports that he is having an affair with the deputy chief of staff assigned to oversee the issue for his office.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Glendening and Deputy Chief of Staff Jennifer Crawford, the governor’s top adviser on Smart Growth initiatives, have traveled together at state expense and that Glendening, who has been separated from his wife for a year, has stayed overnight at Crawford’s Annapolis townhouse.
The key to Maryland’s Smart Growth strategy is its incentive-based nature, said Tom Downs, director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland. “That’s why Smart Growth is going to last longer here than in other jurisdictions that depend solely on regulation.”
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