Vol. 8, No. 37
Sept. 14-20, 2000
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A Potent Reminder For Officials Timid On Sprawl

Judging by a new poll this week, elected officials in Maryland who are unwilling to protect people from unwanted growth could be enjoying their final terms in office.

The Mason-Dixon poll found that 80 percent of likely voters in Maryland believe that government leaders have responsibility to enact policies that reduce development and slow population growth in order to maintain the quality of life of those who elected them.

Seventy-three percent believed that the main beneficiaries of growth and development are a select group of developers and related industries.

Another of the findings is the reason why timid officials might not want to plant any perennials outside their offices. Three of five voters said they were not confident that their leaders will do what it takes to balance growth to maintain the quality of life that people expect.

The poll of 631 Marylanders was sponsored by Negative Public Growth, a 28-year-old national membership organization that concerns itself with population and immigration issues. Polls like this typically reach conclusions that their sponsors want by artfully wording questions. But the solid reputation of the polling firm and the survey's minimal error margin (four percent) make its conclusions hard to overlook.

What is striking about the findings is that Maryland is among the states with a law - Smart Growth - that aims to discourage unwise development. And Maryland gives counties a flexibility to protect citizens that counties in Virginia and many states don't enjoy.

In other words, Maryland is a leader among states in the challenge of growth management. But according to voters in Maryland, their leaders aren't sufficiently aggressive in using the powers they have.

Not too many years ago, it was crime or the economy that topped the list of worries in Maryland. Now, the cluster of issues related to sprawl - including traffic, overcrowding and environment - top the list with 27 percent, beating out education (24.7) and crime (20.4), according to the poll.

An overwhelming 85 percent said they believed that the current pace of development threatens Chesapeake Bay and other natural resources. Three of four voters said they believed that development is overcrowding schools and threatening education.

In Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, the poll should alert readers to people's fears and the hopes they have vested in elected officials. As a study released with the poll observes, there is a huge difference between Maryland and Virginia on the subject of local control. In Virginia, "all power rests with the state Legislature and its governor. The opposite is true in Maryland, where cities and counties have governing latitude and therefore considerable leverage when it comes to limiting growth," the study observes.

Unfortunately, we've seen too many instances in Anne Arundel recently of County Executive Janet Owens and others throwing in the cards on unpopular building projects demanded by powerful forces. We have to wonder if they might be considering running for office in Virginia one day.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly