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In Allegany County, Smart Growth Makes Sense
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by Dale Sams | 2006

Could any development be more regressive than the proposed Terrapin Run in Allegany County?

Does it make sense to be concerned about Smart Growth in an area that hasn’t seen much growth? Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County believe the answer is yes, of course it does, and we’re opposing a proposed new development known as Terrapin Run.

This would be a 4,300-unit housing and commercial development situated on about 900 acres. Located in rural eastern Allegany County along Scenic Route 40, an important heritage tourism area, it would be bordered by Green Ridge State Forest and the Billmeyer Wildlife Management Area. With a state forest and a wildlife management area as neighbors, the closest high school and middle school would be more than 30 miles to the east in Cumberland, the nearest elementary school  15 miles away in the small community of Flintstone. The developer expects that the working residents of Terrapin Run, some 10,000 to 11,000 of them, would drive the I-68, I-70 and I-270 corridors to Frederick, Baltimore and Washington, DC, a commute of 150-200 miles, while students would make a 60-mile round trip each day in the opposite direction.

The proposed development is named after a small  tributary of Fifteen Mile Creek, a high-quality trout stream, into which the developer eventually plans to discharge the effluent of a wastewater treatment plant. During many months of the year, Terrapin Run is a dry creek bed; nevertheless, if this development is built, 750,000 gallons of treated waste will be discharged into it every day.

The federal and state endangered wildflower, Harperella, found in only 11 locations globally, germinates in Fifteen Mile Creek during low summer flows. The addition of this large amount of effluent would adversely impact Harperella’s ability to survive. The waste treatment plant’s effluent, along with chemical-laden storm water runoff from parking lots, a shopping center, and many new streets, roads, and lawns, would all end up in the Potomac River.

The Allegany County Planning Commission, in a split vote in May 2005, decided to allow the developer to proceed with research and analysis. Despite the fact that the area is zoned for agriculture and conservation, the Board of Zoning Appeals, again on a split vote, granted a special exception by approving this development. Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County have appealed this decision with the Circuit Court of Allegany County, where a hearing is scheduled for April 21, 2006.

The Board of Zoning Appeals based its decision primarily on highly debatable economic benefits to the county. Smart-growth principles point to the high cost of a new community in an area that is 30 miles from a population center. Experience shows that $1.50 or more is required for every $1 collected in new real estate taxes to build the necessary infrastructure and provide all the necessary services.  Terrapin Run violates every one of Maryland’s smart-growth initiatives: concentrate development in suitable areas, protect the environment, direct growth to existing population centers, provide stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay, and ensure that public facilities and infrastructure are adequate.

Citizens for Smart Growth in Allegany County is a loosely formed group of artists, educators, environmentalists, foresters, hunters and sportsmen, scientists, and others. Many moved to the county to escape the megalopolis; all have joined forces to oppose Terrapin Run and voice their concerns about land-use planning. Smart growth is logical, sensible growth – and it is just as applicable to counties that are growing slowly, such as Allegany County, as to those that are growing more rapidly.

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