Governor: State won’t fund sprawl

Frederick News Post
Monday, December 7, 1998

Local government is free to make its own decisions, but state government will not pay for the developmental sprawl it allows, Gov. Parris Glendening warned Saturday in a speech at Hood College.

State government means to invest in existing communities, Mr. Glendening said at the Monocacy Watershed Conference, sponsored by Hood College and Community Commons, a local environmental group.

Local governments that allow development beyond their present boundaries will be forced to pay for the development’s infrastructure themselves, he said.

But he said local governments that prevent sprawl will be given tax credits, low interest loans and other incentives.

The state is already encouraging the expansion and modernization of schools, not the building of new ones, he said, adding that 84 percent of school construction money is now going into renovation.

“Change will not be easy. We didn’t get here overnight. But we can do it because people are now beginning to understand what happens in the forest and on the land effects the water,” he said.

Water quality, he said, cannot be addressed without addressing fundamental land use issues.

“You won’t solve sprawl by building more roads to accommodate it,” he said, later adding that a forest is “never the same with a road running through it.”

Water quality, however, is not the only problem caused by sprawl, he said.

Mr. Glendening said Americans have for years believed that success means moving to the country or the suburbs, onto bigger and bigger lots, which ultimately destroys the nation’s sense of community.

And “it’s a sense of community that holds us together as a civilization,” he said.

“We must start now,” to reverse developmental sprawl, he said, “before it’s too late.”

Also, he said, governments have allowed many towns and cities to collapse because they would not invest in them, and government programs have sometimes, inadvertently, encouraged sprawl.

Interstates cut neighborhoods off from their communities, and government help for veterans encouraged suburbs, he said, calling it “the rule of unintended consequences.”

In Montgomery County, during the 1970s and 1980s, county government closed 50 schools in the lower part of the county and built 52 more in the upper half, he said, at a cost of one-half billion dollars, “wasting tax money and resources.”

Building the new schools, he said, “almost became a hidden form of entitlement.”

Cumberland once had a vital downtown, he said, but 15 years ago investors planned a regional shopping center, and the state gave $12 million to the investors for road improvements.

Downtown store owners could not compete with the mall, he said, and now many of the town’s downtown buildings are vacant or under-utilized.

Without state money, the mall would not exist, he said, noting that the state is now investing several million each year to help revitalize downtown Cumberland.

Investors had a right to build a mall, but taxpayers should not be forced to finance deterioration, he said.

Reversing the way government spends its money, and the way people think about development “can be done. It absolutely can be done,” he said, using as an example the Hillandale area of Baltimore County.

Hillandale is a community built after World War II, which at some point began declining, he said, citing a community marked by rental units and drug dealers.

State government decided to help save the community with low-interest loans for home buyers, renovation loans and help with closing costs.

And the community recently celebrated the arrival of its 50th young family, he said.

Mr. Glendening said an older lady told him she had never believed she would see young children riding their bicycles in Hillandale again.

Baltimore has an area in which, 15 years ago, a manufacturer went out of business, he said, allowing the “beautiful buildings” to deteriorate.

State money was used in recent years to renovate the buildings, he said, and now the buildings are used by retailers and other businesses, and other commercial and industrial interests have established themselves in the neighborhood.

The private sector, by itself, is now redeveloping the area, he said.

Although problems exist, Mr. Glendening said Americans feel an increasing awareness and concern for the environment, rivaling the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

A Smart Growth program has been introduced in Utah, he said, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Georgia.

More than 200 Smart Growth initiatives were on the ballot in November, and he said almost all of them passed.

In a later interview, Mr. Glendening said Smart Growth was his idea, but many people helped him refine his ideas for legislative approval.

Mr. Glendening also praised Frederick for its attempt to protect its watershed and revitalize its downtown.