- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — The rolling fields and unspoiled coastlines of Maryland’s Eastern Shore are threatened by poor planning, according a state report.

The report, the first in a series expected from the Maryland Department of Planning in coming months, suggests that if the nine Eastern Shore counties don’t change their strategies, the “exponential growth” will result in sharp declines in agricultural and forest acres.

The report says commutes will get longer, traffic problems will worsen and water quality will suffer if “low-density suburban development” continues. Such sprawl, the report states, will make the Shore look like “many other suburban parts of Maryland.”

The 24-page report issued Friday breaks no new ground nor proposes state intervention to preserve the region’s rural character, but it repeats themes that could lay the groundwork for state action to guide local development.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, convened a task force and is preparing to tackle development by revisiting 1990s-era “Smart Growth” laws that haven’t stopped sprawl. The problem is especially keen on the Eastern Shore, where subdivisions are replacing fields and condos are rising on what once were working waterfronts.

“We’ve got to concentrate our growth better and preserve our rural lands better or else we’re going to see a significant part of our rural lands lost,” said state Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall.

However, he said, the report should not be seen as paving the way for increased state intervention in local planning decisions.

“I don’t think that’s what the governor wants to do,” Mr. Hall said.

Still, the administration undoubtedly plans to pay more attention to local planning decisions to accommodate growth.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore population is projected to increase by 160,000 in the next 25 years. If growth patterns continue, that could lead to the development of an additional 96,000 acres of land — about twice the size of Baltimore.

That prospect already has inspired attempts to draw attention to planning decisions on the Shore.

“I’m really excited to see the state looking at land use on a regional basis and looking ahead,” said Robert J. Etgen, director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation group that has issued its own report on the issue.

Mr. Etgen said land-use decisions are a “jealously guarded prerogative,” but Maryland residents, especially on the Eastern Shore, now are seeing growth and development as such big problems that they are willing to consider more central oversight. Already, six counties on the Eastern Shore have signed agreements to work regionally on some growth decisions.

“We need all the support we can” get from the state, said Mr. Etgen, whose group is based in Queen Anne’s County.

Worcester County Planning Director Sandy Coyman consulted on the state report and called it a broad look at what the Eastern Shore should consider to retain its historically rural nature.

“Are we on track?” Mr. Coyman asked. “Are we achieving our smart growth? And if not, what are the issues? And what would need to be done to address them?”

Cambridge city planner Anne Roane, who also worked on the report, said state attention is welcome at this point. Her city has about 12,000 housing units, with plans for an additional 4,000.

The Eastern Shore is a natural place to start considering how Maryland is handling growth, she said.

“We have more land, and we have basically less development than the Western Shore,” Mrs. Roane said.

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