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The Rocky Road to Sustainable Land Development: Combating Urban Sprawl, by Chris Thomas

Posted by: | April 17, 2014 Comments Off on The Rocky Road to Sustainable Land Development: Combating Urban Sprawl, by Chris Thomas |

Maryland, a pioneer in the fight against sprawl, has enacted several measures to combat the unsustainability of unmitigated development. The most acclaimed of those measures was the ‘inside/outside strategy.’ This strategy consisted of two prongs. First, the Smart Growth Areas Act of 1997 required counties to identify developed urban areas, known as “Priority Funding Areas” (PFAs). [11] The Act limited state government funding for growth to identified PFAs, thereby ensuring that the state did not encourage sprawl. In this way, the government encouraged revitalization of city centers, the ‘inside.’ Numerous subsequent proposals have strengthened this program by making it more difficult to develop non-PFA regions.[12]

The second prong of this strategy, the Rural Legacy Program, sought to protect existing open space.[13] The statute created the Rural Legacy Board and directed it to protect the most prestigious open spaces. To further that aim, the legislature granted the Board power to purchase real estate, either completely or in the form of easements. The Board has much discretion to buy and sell land so long as it furthers protections of Maryland’s natural heritage. The program allows farming and other activities on this land, but prohibits development. Thus, this program protects the ‘outside’ from conversion to a suburban area.

Despite the acclaim this two-pronged strategy received, in the ten years since its passage little meaningful progress occurred.[14] Although numerous areas garnered permanent protection through the Rural Legacy Program and anecdotal evidence attributes many redevelopment projects to the Smart Growth Act, sprawl remains a serious concern. Localities statewide continue to fund development outside of PFAs. Purchases of open space have failed to acquire enough areas to make a consequential difference. The ‘inside/outside strategy’ simply slowed the creep of urban sprawl. Despite this lack of success, a national paradigm shift necessary to accomplish meaningful change has begun to materialize, as demonstrated by the proliferation of zoning restrictions.

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[11] Smart Growth Areas Act, Md. Code Ann., State Fin. & Proc. § 5-7B-01.

[12] Gerrit-Jan Knaap & John W. Frece, Smart Growth in Maryland: Looking Forward and Looking Back, 43 Idaho L. Rev. 445, 447 (2007).

[13] The Rural Legacy Program, Md. Code Ann., Nat. Res. § 5-9A-01.

[14] Knaap, supra note 12, at 453.

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