- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The Ehrlich administration has revived a program that was set up to combat suburban sprawl, but critics say that changes made in the Live Near Your Work program actually may contribute to sprawl.

The program was part of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s Smart Growth initiative, which was designed to direct growth toward existing urban areas and reduce the destruction of open space by new developments.

It offered $3,000 grants to buyers of homes in areas in need of revitalization to help cover closing costs with grants underwritten by the employer and state and county governments.

As revised by the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, the program no longer is limited to neighborhoods in need of revitalization.

It was expanded to include existing homes within 25 miles of a buyer’s workplace, and larger grants are now available because the program allows payment of 3 percent of a mortgage.

“This is ‘live near your work’? … This is a benefit for congestion, which we don’t really need any more incentives for,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a conservation advocacy group.

But Ehrlich administration officials say that expanding the grants and opening the program to all neighborhoods within 25 miles of a buyer’s work site make it a more effective program.

“Three thousand dollars is nice, but 3 percent of your mortgage amount is better,” said Stephen Silver, chief financial officer of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

He also said, “You don’t have to worry, ‘Oh does my employer participate? Does my county participate?’ You just get this.”

Paul Pilger and his girlfriend were among the first to take advantage of the new program when it became available at the end of June.

The Silver Spring couple received a grant of more than $9,000 to help pay settlement costs for their $311,933 mortgage on a town house in Elkridge.

Mr. Pilger said moving to Elkridge will lengthen his commute from 20 miles to more than 25 miles. His girlfriend’s drive to work in College Park also will be longer, but within the 25-mile limit to be eligible for the grant.

Former Glendening administration officials say that the new program distorts the purpose of the Smart Growth initiative.

“You could draw a 25-mile circle around most major employers and end up where you don’t want development to happen,” said Harriet Tregoning, a former aide to Mr. Glendening, a Democrat.

Miss Tregoning continues to work with the former governor in directing the Smart Growth Leadership Institute in the District.

The Glendening plan caught on slowly, although it enlisted more than 100 employers over five years to provide $3,000 grants to 990 home buyers before funding ran out in 2003.

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