Report Questions Effectiveness of Smart Growth

A January 6 Baltimore Sun article discusses a recently released report by the National Center for Smart Growth Reasearch and Education that examines the impact that Smart Growth has had on Maryland’s growth and development patterns over the last 13 years.  The report notes that while there has been positive gains in land preservation and development around transit areas, it is unclear if Smart Growth has had a significant impact on reducing sprawl or traffic congestion.

Gerrit Knaap, director of the center, said there are “a few bright spots,” notably the preservation of land and recent promotion of development around transit stops in the Baltimore and Washington areas. But overall, he said, “the evidence suggests that we haven’t really bent the curves [of growth] in ways we hoped we would.”  …

Richard E. Hall, the state’s planning secretary, said the study’s inability to find much impact is “not wildly unexpected,” as it echoes previous studies of Smart Growth’s effectiveness. He said it takes years, even decades, to alter land use trends, in part because of the long lead time involved in planning for development and the limited impact government can have on market forces.

“You’re really turning a battleship with a paddle,” he said. “It takes a long time to see differences.”  …

John E. Kortecamp, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said Smart Growth policies haven’t changed development patterns much because state and local governments have never invested enough in schools, transportation and other infrastructure in existing communities to accommodate more people. And he said residents in such areas often balk at denser development because classrooms and roads are already overcrowded, which he called a “Catch-22.”  …

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the 1000 Friends of Maryland, a nonprofit group dedicated to land preservation, contended that the report fails to credit some of Smart Growth’s effects, notably in protecting farmland and forests. She said the biggest problem has been the lack of “follow-through” by local governments to change development plans, zoning and regulations, which forces state government to help pay for roads, sewers, schools and other services in outlying areas rather than making greater use of existing infrastructure.  …

Leslie Knapp Jr., associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, contends that local officials have largely embraced the desirability of protecting farms and open land. But Smart Growth hasn’t been as popular in rural counties, he said, because the state policy calls for more compact development than residents want.

“You don’t see a lot of condos or apartment buildings” in small towns and villages, he said.

Jon Laria, a Baltimore real estate lawyer who is chairman of the state’s growth commission, acknowledged the dilemma, but said he hoped that even with government funding scarce, state and local laws and regulations could be revised to discourage sprawl. He suggested a tradeoff might be possible, with development rules relaxed in areas targeted for growth and more restrictions imposed in rural areas.

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