McCrory Joins with Maryland Governor, FEMA Director and County Officials
to Promote Smart Growth
By Kimberly Peterson
Welcoming close to 5,000 county delegates to his city, Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory helped the National Association of Counties (NACo) kick off its 65th Annual Meeting by opening up a Smart Growth Symposium on July 14. In a related session, the mayor detailed a new cooperative effort undertaken with surrounding counties to develop the region's transportation system.
NACo's Smart Growth Symposium was designed to give local leaders an opportunity to hear from national leaders on how to tie land use planning with growth and development decisions. McCrory said that the Charlotte city and county region firmly believes in smart growth, "If we don't make decisions now in the right way, four, five and six generations down the road will be asking 'what were they thinking?'." McCrory said that the two key components of smart growth are that it is customer driven and that it requires cooperation. Speaking for The U.S. Conference of Mayors, McCrory said, "Our customers don't care where we sit, they want results. The market will force us to work together. Customers (i.e. citizens) are demanding teamwork. Air and water pollution do not honor political boundaries. Cities, counties and states have to work as a team." "We should have joint city/county zoning and planning ordinances and building standards. There is no excuse that we don't have regional planning. In Charlotte, we have joint planning. This is a major issue to be resolved by cities and counties.", the Mayor said.
Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening delivered a keynote address to NACo delegates describing his state's smart growth plan. Glendening has positioned Maryland as a national leader in stemming sprawl and has encouraged brownfield and infill development. He has made a strong connection between policies and quality of life for Maryland residents and currently serves as the Chair of the National Governors' Association. In his first speech since assuming the chairmanship, Glendening explained that the federal government has a major role in helping states and local governments, not in land use planning but rather in innovative policies. "We are learning the new rules of the new economy. High tech companies can locate anywhere. They are motivated by the quality of the workforce and quality of life," the Governor said. The conclusion that metro regions are not only competing with each other but internationally is backed by recent metro economic data released by the Conference of Mayors and NACo.
Maryland's Smart Growth program is incentive based rather than regulatory and is implemented at the local level. The goals of the program are to (1) support and enhance existing communities; (2) preserve natural resources and agricultural areas; and (3) save the cost of new infrastructure.
Maryland has declared that the state will no longer subsidize poor growth. The plan focuses on both urban and rural areas. By establishing priority funding areas, the state is able to focus funding into existing developed areas in which there is existing or planned water and sewer, there is a minimum density of 3.5 units per acre, and the growth plan meets state approval. Glendening said that under this plan, his administration has had to make some tough decisions. For example, he has cancelled or modified five highway bypasses, stopped the sale of a 550 acre tract, and has relocated a new university campus in downtown Hagerstown instead of in a farm field. The rural legacy program has counties working with state landholders to buy property development rights and tracts of land for preservation. As evidence of the program's success, 187,000 acres of Chapman's forest have been permanently preserved, according to the Governor.
The State of Maryland has a number of tools to help encourage revitalization of older developed areas including brownfields redevelopment, job creation and a live near work partnership with the private sector. Glendening has issued an executive order that all state agencies must use smart growth goals. He has instituted a program for the state's teachers to buy homes in priority funding areas where they work by offering them loans at a 5 percent interest rate. The state has also revised its building codes to make it easier to reuse old buildings.
James Lee Witt, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, followed Governor Glendening and said that FEMA supports smart growth through its Project Impact program. Project Impact is designed to help local communities become disaster resistant. Witt emphasized that "where you build impacts who is affected in natural disasters." He cited Hurricane Floyd's devastation on North Carolina just last year. Taxpayers pay the cost for recovering from natural disasters. Witt declared, "We can not continue to build in the 100-year flood plain because we are going to keep paying for it." FEMA spends $3 billion per year helping communities recover from natural disasters. The states spend even more. Weather related events are more frequent and devastating than they were ten years ago.
Following a panel discussion, symposium participants disbanded into breakout sessions. Mayor McCrory and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Darrel Williams led a session on transportation and transit-oriented development and described their new long-range joint transportation and land-use plan. Mayor McCrory credited regional cooperation, a system of local governance, and flexible transit options with the success of the new plan, adopted in 1999, to address the region's growing population and jobs base and critical to keeping the Charlotte region competitive with other jurisdictions less burdened by congestion.