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Smart growth is a win-win opportunity 
By THERESA PIERNO

Sprawl and its side effects -- traffic, pollution, rising taxes, overcrowded schools and the like -- undermine the very features that draw people and businesses to this region. 

Once considered primarily an environmental and community issue, sprawl is now commonly recognized as a concern for businesses as it contributes to increased costs, reduced productivity and labor problems. 

As a solution to sprawl, Smart Growth shows promise, but is still in its infancy. To have a significant impact on sprawl, it needs greater support, cooperation and leadership from all sectors of society. 

Forging partnerships to craft solutions and overcome disagreements is vital. 

Maryland's population will continue to grow. These people will need places to live, work and shop. Builders are in the business of meeting that need, but builders need land to create their products. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes there is common ground with the development industry on issues such as supplying land for growth. CBF is taking steps to explore and cooperate on that common ground through partnerships with builders and others. 

In Baltimore and Washington CBF works with the building industry, such as our partnership with the Urban Land Institute, a development industry organization, to eliminate barriers to Smart Growth. 

Through the partnership process, many win-win opportunities come to light, such as the large supplies of underused urban and suburban lands in Maryland, from former industrial brownfields to current suburban grayfields such as derelict strip malls and their parking lots. 

Putting underused developed land to full use makes good sense for a variety of reasons. It revitalizes communities, uses existing infrastructure, stretches the supply of land and protects the environment, including the Chesapeake Bay. 

Redevelopment is a huge win for the bay. It accommodates growth with little or no increase in polluted runoff since the land used was already developed. 

Essential to making partnerships work is a common understanding of sprawl's impact and what can be done to tame it. Sprawl is a pattern of spread-out and largely unmanaged development increasingly far from towns and cities that have been the region's social, cultural and economic centers. 

As an issue, sprawl is less about what we build, and more about where we build it. 

For businesses in particular, sprawl effects four key areas: transportation, taxes, housing and quality of life. 

Sprawl is a leading cause of traffic, because it can only be served by automobiles on roads. 

Sprawl can increase local taxes as sprawling, single-use (residential only) developments often cost local governments much more to serve than communities that mix commercial with residential uses. 

The bulk of low-density housing development in the suburbs is high-end housing for upper-middle incomes and above. Sprawl can price some residents, such as police officers, teachers and librarians, out of the communities they serve. 

The combined effect of these and other symptoms of sprawl (overcrowded schools, recreational areas hampered by pollution, and declining community character) cast a pall over a region that drives employees elsewhere. Businesses considering expansion or relocation shy away as well. 

In the Annapolis region, where seafood, boating, fishing, hunting and tourism industries are important, sprawl's environmental effects increase pollution and reduce natural pollution filters, contributing to poor water quality and lost habitat that hurt fisheries like oysters and crabs. 

Smart Growth attempts to reverse these trends. 

For communities and businesses alike, the question is no longer whether to pursue Smart Growth, but how to shape it to sustain healthy communities and strong economies and save the bay. 

Leadership from business is an essential ingredient. CBF fully supports and looks forward to working with the building community to eliminate the barriers preventing builders from capitalizing on Maryland's abundant inventory of underused land. 

It's not only good business for builders -- it also benefits business, communities and the bay. The results will be worth it. After all, Smart Growth is an investment in the quality of life that brought us to and keeps us working and living in this region. 
 

Theresa Piernoe is executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Maryland office. 

Published June 3, 2001, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2001 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
 
 

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