- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

Maryland lawmakers want to strengthen their state's efforts to combat suburban sprawl this year, while their Virginia counterparts are contemplating a first step toward their own so-called smart growth program.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening of Maryland has asked state legislators to approve several new smart growth proposals by mid-April, including a $15 million plan to encourage revitalization in the state's oldest communities.

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, also wants to create a Cabinet-level department to coordinate his administration's smart growth efforts, which began in 1997.

"The governor has always believed that the legislation we passed in '97 was just the beginning, not the end," says John W. Frece, an adviser to Mr. Glendening on smart growth matters.

The original legislation encourages the state to invest in areas where development has already occurred, in such municipalities like Rockville and Upper Marlboro. It also provides funding to preserve rural land.

Mr. Frece says the administration is confident the new smart growth package will be approved. The bills, introduced in the state Senate last week, are backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Clinton Democrat, and Brian E. Frosh, Chevy Chase Democrat and chairman of a Senate subcommittee on the environment.

Across the Potomac River, Virginia legislators are considering a proposal to spend $25,000 to study suburban sprawl and recommend ways to fight it.

"It starts the … process" of determining the extent of sprawl, says Natalee Johnsrud, a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Virginia, one of several business groups backing the study proposal.

Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, Woodbridge Republican and a sponsor of the legislation, says the state needs to study sprawl, particularly in the congested Northern Virginia suburbs, before it can develop its own smart growth policies.

Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club, says the state has already conducted studies on growth. Now it must act to contain sprawl, he says.

"The legislators want to appear like they're doing something on smart growth in an election year… . What they're really doing is putting the issue off in an election year," Mr. Besa says.

Virginia lawmakers have passed "piecemeal" smart growth legislation, such as a wetlands-protection bill last year, but have not enacted the kind of sweeping laws Maryland has put on its books, he says.

Virginia's governor, Republican James S. Gilmore III, has criticized Maryland's smart growth program, saying it interferes with business development.

Mr. Glendening and Mr. Gilmore frequently clash on environmental matters, including efforts to draw water from the Potomac for the Northern Virginia suburbs and a proposal to build a bridge linking Montgomery and Fairfax counties.

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