Where urban sprawl has some backers
Lou Breitenother's farm - 92 acres of picturesque, wheat-covered hills in one of the fastest-growing parts of Maryland - might as well be worthless.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Breitenother, who has been retired for some time now, doesn't have the strength to work the land himself. He can rent it, but that doesn't even compensate for property taxes, about $5,000 a year. Yet worst of all, he says, is that no one's interested in buying. The reason: the land is zoned for agriculture only, and cannot be developed.
Breitenother's predicament, and that of scores of others like him, is leading to a revolt here in Carroll County, a onetime farming region that is beginning to look more and more like a typical American suburb, complete with fast-food restaurants, grinding traffic, and golf courses.
The remaining farmers want to sell or develop their land, which in some instances could be worth millions of dollars. And some county officials are trying to help them do that. The state of Maryland, however, is determined to turn back urban sprawl.
The conflict, highlighted here in Woodbine, is being played out across America, as land-use planning is pitted against property rights. "What makes me the angriest are the people who want the farms to stay farms so they can drive by in their cars and say, 'Oh, that looks beautiful,' " says Breitenother's wife, Flo, a mild-mannered woman who runs a tidy house. "But really, farming just isn't in the cards for Carroll County."
Maryland is a national leader in fighting urban sprawl, through a program called Smart Growth that tries to manage new development while rejuvenating city centers. Advocates of Smart Growth say uncontrolled suburban development, which mushroomed in the '70s, is economically irresponsible, socially destructive, and environmentally harmful. Thirteen other states have similar comprehensive programs, and the list is growing.
No easy answers
Yet, as that movement gains momentum, so does the resistance. "This is one of the most important political and social issues we are facing at the start of the 21st century," says Constance Beaumont, the director of state and local policy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington. "There are no easy answers."
In Carroll County, officials have defiantly responded to the Smart Growth program by taking matters into their own hands, one small step at a time. In 1999, the county's three-person elected commission approved a zoning change that would allow a golfing community to be build on the 425-acre Rash brothers' farm, just across from the Breitenothers'. It was a symbolic decision that today is tied up in a lawsuit between private parties. More recently, the commission voted to move forward with development in the county's vast watershed area, which contains the state's primary source of drinking water, Liberty Reservoir.
Those decisions, pushed by Republicans, have infuriated Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening, an influential antisprawl crusader who chairs the National Governors Association.