Vol. 8, No. 34
Aug. 24-30, 2000
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Don’t Crowd Out Our Environment
by Bill Papian

The word environment is defined in most dictionaries as "all the conditions, circumstances and influences surrounding and affecting the development of an organism or group of organisms." Isn't this what we want to protect to the best of our abilities? The term is broad enough to cover a seemingly diverse range of items, from the preservation of the Monarch butterfly to the quality of life in our communities. Certainly also included in the list are the health of Chesapeake Bay, the preservation of farmland, good quality air and potable water, a safe food supply and numerous other 'goods' we devoutly wish to protect.

I make this argument to emphasize the primacy of protecting the environment over any one of the means to that end. Take one of those means, for example, the very laudable anti-sprawl movement being promoted so well by our governor. Anti-sprawl is indeed a means of protecting the environment. All other things equal, it reduces unnecessary travel and preserves open space. But the anti-sprawl campaign is only one among many such means. All other things are not always equal.

The Deale/Shady-Side peninsula in Anne Arundel County has a lengthy Bay shoreline, is largely within the Critical Area and still has a good deal of open space in farmland, parkland and in a few as-yet undeveloped areas containing woodlands and/or wetlands. Does it make sense to encourage the development of its remaining open space? Surely not!

Except for a number of so-called infill lots that will be developed over the next several years, most of that space is in agriculture or is wooded and contains wetlands, both tidal and non-tidal. Additionally, this peninsula' s infrastructure is well below par, especially its roads, which are all below state and county standards and are deemed unsafe by the authorities themselves. The anti-sprawl approach can and will be applied in this Small Area, but it must not be applied to develop open space or to raise the average density of the area. That would be using a means to frustrate a desirable end, the protection of the environment. Those who would push more development here in the name of anti-sprawl have the cart before the horse.

Consider the Report of the Deale/Shady-Side Small Area Planning Committee, dated April 2000:

More than two thirds of the total Deale/Shady Small Area is designated as 'Critical Area' under the State of Maryland' s Critical Area Program. Of the total acreage within the Critical Area, more than half has been designated as Resource Conversation Area. The Deale/Shady Side area is unique in its preponderance of land designated as environmentally sensitive. The area is characterized by many small tributaries and low-lying peninsulas woven into the landscape. The uneven ratio of shoreline to land acreage creates a situation in which land has a disproportionate effect on water quality.

–"Environment": p. 20

Need anyone say more?

This subject is relevant right now because the Department of Planning and Zoning (formerly Planning and Code Enforcement) plans to object to the SAP Committee's recommendation for rather modest downzoning of two parcels in Shady Side. These parcels are presently zoned R1 (one house per acre) and are being recommended for RLD zoning (one house per five acres) by the Committee. Both are at least partially in the Critical Area and have drainage problems.

Rezoning is the traditional method for handling problems like this. Erection of the permitted number of new upscale houses on these tracts under the recommended RLD zoning category would lessen the damage to the environment yet bring reasonably handsome prices for the land.

Do we really want to crowd as many houses on to one of Anne Arundel County's most sensitive peninsulas and then spend the money to upgrade its infrastructure accordingly? If protection of the environment and the health of the Bay are as important as the flurry of Chesapeake Bay agreements, anti-sprawl campaigns, Critical Area legislation, etc., then the answer is surely no.

Bill Papian, president of the Shady Side Peninsula Association, is a regular commentator on wise growth.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly