State Agency Spending Under Maryland's Smart Growth Areas Act: Who's Tracking, Who's Spending, How Much, and Where?

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In 1997, the Maryland General Assembly enacted the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation initiative, an attempt by state government to use the state budget to concentrate urban development in certain areas. The primary vehicle for this approach was embodied in the Smart Growth Areas Act, which required that all “growth-related” funding by state agencies occur in locally designated “Priority Funding Areas” (PFAs) that met certain state criteria. The intent of the Act was to restrict state spending so it became easier for local governments and private developers to concentrate urban development within the PFAs, while at the same time, discourage development outside PFAs. Data recently released by the Maryland Department of Planning, however, reveal that the Act is not having its intended effect. Although approximately three-fourths of all residential permits issued from 1990 to 2004 were for development inside PFAs, approximately three- fourths of the land developed for residential use over the same period was developed outside PFAs. Furthermore, the share of permits issued for residential development outside PFAs has risen from approximately 28.6 percent in 1998 to 31.6 percent in 2004, while the share of acres developed for residential use outside PFAs has risen from 76.7 percent in 1998 to 77.2 percent in 2004.1 These data suggest that the Smart Growth Areas Act has not concentrated growth inside PFAs as intended.