Maryland Gets "1000 Friends"

by Alice Cherbonnier

OREGON HAS ONE. So do Florida, Massachusetts and about 16 other states. Now Maryland has one too: a statewide coalition of organizations called the "1000 Friends of Maryland," with a goal of preventing development sprawl as the state's population increases.

The group, which officially announced its existence on October 23, does not intend to be a roadblock to change. Rather, it will seek to mitigate the environmental and social impact of development. "We recognize economic health and job creation are absolute priorities," says Nancy Ancel, a professional planner employed by the state.

Ms. Ancel and fellow planners Thomas Osborne and Edwin Thomas initially incorporated the non-profit "Friends" group last year as an activity of the Maryland Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA). Six months ago, a 20-member steering committee was formed, with members representing various conservation and preservation groups from throughout the state. Since then, subcommittees have begun work, identifying issues and planning strategies.

Initial start-up funding for the independent organization has come from the Abell Foundation, Maryland Citizen Planners Association, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, among others.

Groups already represented among the 1000 Friends include the Maryland Downtown Development Association, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Preservation Maryland, and the Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Karen Lewand, chair of the 1000 Friends of Maryland and also a board member of Baltimore Heritage, Inc., stressed that the new "Friends" group, though operating in an informal way, will seek to include "big picture thinkers" from among the state's business, agricultural and financial leaders. "We support intelligent growth," she said. "To us, conservation is about managed growth. We can't keep building infrastructure. We need to look at focusing new settlement where old settlement already exists. It's very complicated. It's not easy. There are so many intertwined issues, but the main thread is keeping density where it is as the state adds a million people over the next ten years."

The 1,000 Friends have made several recommendations to Gov. Parris Glendening. For example, they suggest that the State require counties to establish boundaries around developed centers before the State grants funding for transportation, education, and water and sewer services. They recommend passing legislation to create incentives to develop vacant and under-utilized urban areas, with citizen participation required. Further, any State development or expansion, the 1000 Friends say, should take place in existing developed areas.

Instead of adding to the state's Interstate highway network, the Friends urge that highway transportation funds should be used to repair and maintain existing roads and bridges. Not surprisingly, mass transit, bikeways, and sidewalks would be encouraged.

The 1000 Friends also suggest that the State require counties to inform the public about the true taxpayer costs of administering county master plans. They would like to see expanded tax credits to businesses and individuals who renovate existing buildings, and they recommend public dialogue on the issue of increasing real property taxes on land and decreasing them on buildings, in order to encourage redevelopment instead of new development. They also call for public education on issues relating to growth management and revitalization.

If the "1000 Friends" gain the influence they hope to attain, who knows? Maybe they'll be changing their name to the "100,000 Friends," the name of their Pennsylvania counterpart.

For information about the 1000 Friends of Maryland, call Karen Lewand at 625-2585 or Bill Pencek at 514-7604.

The next meeting of the 1000 Friends steering committee will be held on November 13 at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Call Larry Bohlen at 301-445-1548 for information.

Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on Friday, November 8, 1996.