- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Restrictions on development in crowded Maryland communities could result in urban sprawl as thousands of new workers flock to the state’s expanding military bases in coming years, reports say.

A report released in February by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development estimates the state will absorb more than 28,000 new households by 2011, when it gains an estimated 45,000 jobs from the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan.

But many Maryland counties have requirements preventing development in areas where schools and other public services are at or over capacity. Some say the requirements, called adequate public facilities ordinances (APFO), encourage urban sprawl by deflecting growth to rural areas.

“Unless there are some changes in the way that APFOs are administered, there is going to be a problem,” said Gerrit Knaap, executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education. The center issued a policy analyzing the ordinances last year.

Without any changes, he said, “you’d end up with growth in all the wrong places.”

BRAC growth will exacerbate the problem, he said.

The state’s smart growth program has identified areas, called priority funding areas or smart growth areas, where growth is encouraged to prevent urban sprawl. The state BRAC report warns that counties should take “significant steps” to upgrade infrastructure to allow more development in priority funding areas, or development will spill over into rural land.

Richard Hall, state secretary of planning, said APFOs are not always the best way to control development.

“I’m not unsympathetic as to why some local governments want to enact APFOs, but we think in some cases there might be other ways to accomplish the goals of smart growth,” he said. “In the real world we realize that things don’t always come together perfectly, but I don’t think anyone wants to see growth deflected to rural areas.”

Harford County is expected to gain more than 12,000 jobs and more than 6,500 households from expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to the state report, and county officials have already begun planning to avoid urban sprawl.

“I am concerned that the APFO ruling will push growth in the wrong area, which is the primarily rural area,” said Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson. “For the most part, all of the schools that are [over capacity] are within the development area.”

County officials are trying to reopen those areas to development by building new schools and expanding existing schools. Once capacity is added, building can resume in those school districts.

This year’s capital improvement budget for schools in the county is about $100 million, “which is a big number for Harford County,” Mr. Richardson said.

Officials in Anne Arundel County are less worried about rural growth. They have planned for growth in the western part of Anne Arundel, where Fort George G. Meade is located, said the chairman of the county’s BRAC task force, Robert C. Leib.

“We’ve more or less been expecting growth in that area,” he said. “I would think we’re in a fairly good position, that we won’t run into an APFO problem.”

Fort Meade will gain almost 6,000 jobs from BRAC, which means more than 4,400 households for the county, according to the state report. But officials recently announced that expansions at Fort Meade not related to BRAC could mean as many as 22,000 new jobs will come to the base, which could mean more new residents in the county.

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