On Nov. 29, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, will hear oral arguments in a case brought by a group I support, Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County, organized in opposition to a development called Terrapin Run.
Terrapin Run would be one of those developments we're all familiar with, in which the natural features for which the development is named are destroyed in order to make way for the development. No terrapins would run in Terrapin Run. But the issues before the court are whether developers have to follow a county comprehensive plan, and whether county officials have the authority to ignore their own comprehensive plan when wealthy developers come a-knocking. If the answers are no and yes, respectively, then what good is a comprehensive plan at all?
This is the question Citizens for Smart Growth -- a small group of locals passing the hat to pay its lawyer -- has asked from Cumberland to Annapolis. The group's persistence has greatly annoyed the developers and politicians who'd love to turn a wilderness valley into the second largest city in the county, despite it being a hundred-mile commute from the jobs that possibly would justify a 4,300-house subdivision. But Citizens for Smart Growth also has accumulated some influential backers along the way: the state Department of Planning, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the American Planning Association, all of whom have filed briefs with the court on Citizens' behalf.
Whatever happens, Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County deserves a lot of credit for not going quietly, and for exposing the business-as-usual decisions of local politicians to scrutiny not only statewide but nationwide as well.
For background on the years-long Terrapin Run saga, see this feature by NPR station WYPR in Baltimore and this story in the Cumberland Times-News.
For more on the consequences of unplanned, uncontrolled development nationwide, read today's New York Times story on fire hazards in San Diego County, where development in the riskiest areas -- adjoining state forests, just where Terrapin Run would be situated -- has gone from 61,000 houses in 1980 to 106,000 houses in 2000 to 125,000 houses today. Or this Associated Press story on Atlanta-area sprawl outgrowing its water capacity. "There are concrete limits to growth," one environmentalist says, "and no one wants to admit that."