When the new governor takes office in just over a week, it will once again be safe in Maryland to say the words "smart growth."
With O'Malley taking office, Marylanders could see a push for mass transit and state control over where new houses go for the thousands expected to move here because of a hot job market and military realignment. And state residents should expect the revival of the concept of Smart Growth, popularized by former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.
The idea -- that government should use resources to steer growth to urban areas and away from rural vistas -- was a favorite of Glendening's, but it fell out of favor when Ehrlich took office four years ago.
Ehrlich dismantled the cabinet-level Office of Smart Growth started by Glendening, a move Ehrlich said would spread the concept to all state agencies but critics said indicated a reluctance to implement Smart Growth ideas.
"I feel like Smart Growth was mostly buried under the Ehrlich administration," said Del. William Bronrott, a Montgomery Democrat. "The Smart Growth flag was flying high under Glendening. Then it was lowered to half-mast under Ehrlich."
O'Malley plans to revive the Office of Smart Growth, and he will create an office to plan for military growth, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. O'Malley also plans to look into more mass transit, Abbruzzese said, including the possible extension of Washington's subway system to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
And this news actually comes on the heels of a story from last week about an effort in the General Assembly to create regional planning groups.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is pushing legislation to control suburban sprawl in Maryland by creating regional authorities that could overrule local governments and veto large development projects.
Proponents say the goal is to promote regional planning and avoid clashes such as the one last year over the Blackwater Resort, a proposed 3,200-home development that initially was approved by local government, then criticized as too large and too close to a wildlife refuge. It was eventually scaled back to 675 homes.
"What's become clear to us is [that] these very large, mega-developments really have regional impacts, and we need to look at them from a regional perspective," said Kim Coble, a foundation director.
Under the legislation, seven planning committees made up of local and state officials would represent zones from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland and vote on large projects. These authorities would also write comprehensive plans for their regions and add a second level of government scrutiny to what now are local decisions.
Vermont has used regional planning commissions since the 1970s. A similar program in Florida was watered down.
The dance begins. As these programs and legislation move forward, finding the balance between local, regional and state control over growth is going to be difficult. Although I'm firmly in support of keeping local matters local, there is no doubt that growth creates regional problems that local governments don't have the ability or desire to deal with (I'm looking at you, Frederick and Carroll Counties, and all the commuters you dump on our roads).
Furthermore, in order to have any realistic chances of getting a decent public transportation system in central Maryland, it will require a concerted effort from all local governments, as well as the state and any friends we may have in the federal government.