ANNAPOLIS – A significant portion of the state’s land is vulnerable to residential development, which might hinder land preservation goals, said an official with the Department of Planning at a special joint committee hearing Tuesday.
Large swaths of Maryland, particularly in rural areas and along the Baltimore-Washington corridor, are suffering from development pressure, said Joe Tassone, director of the planning department’s office of Land and Water Resource Planning.
Tassone proposed a two-pronged approach to land preservation, encouraging counties to provide the needed funds and to adjust zoning rules, stabilizing their land base by discouraging further residential development.
Land stability is affected by the amount of residential development that currently exists and the amount that can be constructed, as well as the market demand for residential development, Tassone said. Market demand is encouraged by an increasing accessibility between rural areas and employment centers.
“Development pressure for residential lots in rural areas is largely a function of the market for residential lots, which depends … on people who have jobs that they can get to from a given rural area,” Tassone said.
Although they are not the only employment centers that affect rural development, the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas are the largest job centers in the state, said Tassone.
Tuesday’s hearing comes on the heels of a report released by The National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, which analyzed the effectiveness of the state’s smart growth policies. The study found the state’s decade-old law has been ineffective at containing sprawl.
But in some parts of the state pressure from residents has helped drive preservation efforts.
Harford County is one of the top counties in the state in terms of land preservation, due in part to resident pressure, said Bill Amoss, administrator of the Harford County Department of Planning’s Historical and Agricultural Preservation office.
The county is a participant in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation’s program, and to date has “up to 45,000 acres under easements, so we’re moving forward and getting more farms preserved all the time,” Amoss said.
In 1977, the county defined a designated growth area, and has since “directed 80 to 85 percent of our growth [into] our development envelope,” said Peter Gutwald, director of the planning department.
The driving force behind their land preservation efforts are their residents.
“People like to live here because there is so much rural area still preserved,” Amoss said. “It’s a short drive out to the country. They can see cows and horses and all kinds of things.”
“If you’ve grown up here and you’re used to the agricultural benefits of the community and the benefits of the industry itself, you’ll want to preserve that,” said Amoss.