Is so-called sustainability more important than growth?

Last week before Irene burst onto the scene I read an interesting article by Ann Miller, a Baltimore Examiner.

Apparently the folks in Carroll County have regained a dose of common sense and are trying to apply the brakes to the steamroller called Plan Maryland. Obviously this is a cause which Wicomico County should sign up for as well, given how much the state has attempted to bully local governments into giving up control in the recent past. As we have seen in its dealings with the poultry industry, Annapolis (and by extension, Washington) does not know best.

After all, the goals of Plan Maryland are:

…centered on growth, preservation and sustainability. The “growth” goal is to concentrate development and redevelopment in towns, cities and rural centers where there is existing and planned infrastructure. The “preservation” goal is to preserve and protect environmentally sensitive and rural lands and resources from the impacts of development. And the “sustainability” goal is to ensure a desirable quality of life in our communities and rural areas while preserving the significant natural and cultural resources that define Maryland.

Given that goal, one could reasonably ascertain that the “war on rural Maryland” is far from over. Just because Governor O’Malley didn’t get his initiative of banning septic systems for large developments through the General Assembly doesn’t mean he won’t try an end run like this document, which notes:

With Smart Growth, many thousand fewer septic systems would be installed since the same number of households would connect to community systems with far better treatment, preventing tons of nitrogen discharge into Maryland’s waters.


Smart Growth limits additional wastewater and stormwater pollution by reducing the addition of septic tanks, limiting the amount of forest and wetlands removed for new development, encouraging smaller lawns, and preventing impervious surfaces.

Of course, they forget to mention that what growth does occur becomes much more expensive.

And what the state can’t get through legislation they get through regulation. They already would like to get us out of our cars:

Land use decisions at the local level and housing policy programs need to more effectively consider infrastructure capacity and need to manage demand for travel, to make decisions that will be financially wiser for Marylanders. Moreover, a smarter linkage between where we grow and how we get around has the potential to reduce greenhouse gases, cut air pollution, support the creation of more compact communities, and provide Marylanders with more options on how they move from place to place.

So don’t be looking for that wider road anytime soon – they’ll spend the money on a bus route no one rides.

And that’s the problem – I don’t believe that a one-size-fits-all solution dictated from on high like Plan Maryland is necessarily going to work in the best interests of our area.

Let’s say that a company wanted to come in and build a factory, potentially adding hundreds of jobs to the local economy. They decide their best place to build is a large plot of land, several hundred acres, somewhere in the rural reaches of Wicomico County near U.S. 50.

Well, obviously that’s not going to fly with the Smart Growth people because they’ll be reticent to build new infrastructure to serve this factory, in part because it would encourage more development near the plant as they tap into the water and sewer lines. Of course, if it were somehow approved they would also want this to be near a bus line and perhaps be a more expensive LEED-compliant “green” building.

Maryland has been crying over the spilt milk of having growth concentrate outside the areas they’d like to see it occur for some time. They tried the concept of Priority Funding Areas (PFA) in the 1990s but still those of us who aren’t smart enough to know what’s best for us decided to develop outside the PFAs. Perhaps that’s because the land was less expensive or suited our needs better?

So now we have this Plan Maryland which will dictate which areas should have growth and which areas will be left to wither and die. They note that farmers were making more money off selling land for development than they were from farming, as if making money was a sin. If a farmer has 100 acres and sells the ten with road frontage he’s still got ninety acres to farm and with advances in agricultural technology may well produce more food in the long run.

There’s one other thing Miller notes in her story: Carroll County has abandoned its membership in ICLEI, a organization which promotes ‘sustainability.’ By doing so they saved their taxpayers $1800 in dues, and eliminating a sustainability coordinator saved another $100,000.

This is worth noting because the City of Salisbury is also a member of ICLEI and pays around $600 in annual dues. Granted, that doesn’t hire a police officer but as a taxpayer I can think of better uses for that money.

Salisbury should be worrying about expanding their economic base and job creation, not spending money on a vague and capricious concept of sustainability. If something is worth preserving we should preserve it, but we shouldn’t skimp on development either.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.